For the tenth anniversary issue of the Catholic Peace Fellowship Bulletin (a predecessor, of sorts, to The Sign of Peace), Jim Forest, co-founder of the CPF, offered a piece on the beginnings of the Catholic Peace Fellowship which included the following recollections.
. . . there was an urgent need for Catholic pacifists to expand their efforts to reach out toward others in the Catholic community. The Catholic Worker did some of this, mainly through the paper, but it otherwise had very limited time to focus on such matters as counseling conscientious objectors, putting competent speakers on the road and doing the sort of organizing work that was so desperately needed if the Catholic community was to discover certain lost elements in its own tradition, particularly as regards conscience, vocation and peacemaking the gospel of the beatitudes.
. . . The FOR’s [Fellowship of Reconciliation’s] European trip in 1964 brought the CPF into formal existence; after it, in the fall, it was Phil Berrigan who finally talked me into giving up various plans and starting to work full-time, a decision realized on January 1, 1965. Tom Cornell quickly left his teaching job, and on it went, tremendously exciting.
The sacraments, the gospels, the stories of the saints, the ability of friends and strangers to risk everything rather than take part in murder, the friendship of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the regular CPF masses and meals and long walks with Dan Berrigan . . . all these things helped to keep us going.Ω
-JIM FOREST, Catholic Peace Fellowship Bulletin, February 1975
By Thomas C. Cornell
(from the April 25, 1975 issue of
The National Catholic Reporter)
ONE OF OUR first colleagues in the Catholic Peace Fellowship called himself “International Hiker, International Explorer and International Boy Scout.” He came to mind from the title of his manuscript, My Ten Years in Hell, the story of his captivity in a New Jersey orphan asylum, which he apparently tried to burn down when in his teens. Our friend never really recovered from the interrogation which followed, an interrogation that he swore included torture.
He used to take long walking trips from New York City to Seattle, Washington, or to Bogota, Columbia, in the name of “world peace, hemispheric brotherhood and physical fitness.” Often before entering a town in the prairies he would phone ahead, contact the mayor, the police chief, and the fire chief, to notify them that they were to receive his visit the next morning at daybreak, so would they have a reception committee at the town line?
Often enough he would be greeted by a fire truck, a police car and the mayor, especially a Democratic mayor, because our friend linked his endeavors to those of President Kennedy in the physical fitness program. There would sometimes be interviews in the daily paper, front page with our friend claiming to speak for the Catholic Worker Movement and World Wide Quakerism as he denounced the U.S. military for rejecting him as 4-F on the grounds of mental incompetence. If he was mentally incompetent, he said, it was the fault of the state of New Jersey and by extension the whole country, so why couldn’t he have a 1-A so he could refuse the draft?
He took little money with him on his travels, $15 on one trip, and returned to New York by steamer with entry and exit visas from the countries, he had visited, all innocently mispronounced “Gualamala, Hungduras, Niggeragua, Venzuela.”
He traveled to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane twice. Thomas Merton called him “a fool of God” It did indeed seem that he was protected, that God protects “fools, children and drunks.”
Please do not misunderstand. I am not mocking the man in telling this story. I tell it because it seems appropriate to a recapitulation of 10 years in the Catholic Peace Fellowship. If we have sometimes been fools, what we have done we have tried to do for Christ’s sake, and we have surely enjoyed some protection.
Until the 1940s Catholics in the U.S. made little significant contribution to the peace or pacifist movements. Even after World War II, Korea, and well into Vietnam war, well after the publication of Pacem in Terris in April 1964, the assumption persisted that Catholic pacifists were in fact material heretics. Conscientious objectors were given short shrift, rejected by seminaries, expelled from monasteries. Before Pope John’s encyclical began to take effect, at no level of the church was there any coherent support for the idea of pacifism or conscientious objection. No support, that is, outside of the Catholic Worker, then considered “on the (lunatic) fringe.”
There were always individuals, however, and they might appear at any level. Most notable was Cardinal Alfredo Ottavani. To him we owe the Second Vatican Council statements on nonviolence and conscientious objection. Doctrinally an ultra-conservative, he became convinced of the futility and immorality of war in the aftermath of World War II. “Bellum Est Omnino Interdicendum,” the name of a paper he wrote and circulated from the Holy Office in 1947, means more starkly than English can say, “War is to be Altogether Forbidden.” He might have written it in disappearing ink but for Jean Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Catholics and secretaries of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. But that story has yet to be written.
By the early 1960s the Fellowship of Reconciliation had a history of names well known in Protestant and peace cause circles: Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Thomas, John Nevin Sayre, A.J. Muste, John Swomley and Alfred Hassler.
Hassler’s interfaith director, John Heiderbrink, a Presbyterian minister, was given the assignment of finding a way to organize Catholics into an affiliate.
Hassler and other Fellowship of Reconciliation members sensed the beginning of change in the Catholic community, and were aware that previously untapped energies of tremendous proportions might surface. Heidbrink went to the Catholic Worker to recruit. He found there James H. Forest, the son of a prominent American Communist party functionary, a high school dropout, who had sought refuge in the Navy but had found the church and pacifism instead. Forest was released from the Navy as a conscientious objector and high-tailed it to the Catholic Worker. He was then 19 years old. During 1960 and 1961 Forest helped in every aspect of the “house” work and the Catholic Worker Newspaper. Heidbrink decided that if anyone was going to organize a Catholic Peace Fellowship, it would be Jim Forest.
Heidbrink persuaded Forest, while he was still at the Catholic Worker, to call together a few people to lay the groundwork for a Catholic Peace Fellowship.
Meetings at the homes of Eileen Egan and Howard Evengram during 1961 and 1962 did not result in a Fellowship affiliate, as Heidbrink and Forest hoped, but in an affiliate of the British Pax Association, which took its own and very worthy course, it held annual pacifist conferences, published invaluable aids and disseminated Catholic pacifist literature, and lobbied in Rome with the Goss-Mayrs for the Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. (The group has now merged with the American affiliate of the Pax Christi Movement, the official international Catholic peace movement).
Heidbrink tried incessantly, as Forest says, from 1962 to 1964 to form a Catholic Peace Fellowship. In 1964 the Christian Peace Conference in Prague proved the occasion for accomplishing Heidbrink’s hopes. He secured a gift from an anonymous donor and organized an American Catholic contingent to participate in the conference. It included Jim Forest, Father Daniel Berrigan, Hermene Evans and James Douglass, accompanied by Heidbrink. In conversations walking the streets of Prague, they determined to form the Catholic Peace Fellowship within the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
After arriving home the group contacted friends (among them Thomas Merton, Ned O’Gorman and Elizabeth Bartelme) and we exchanged and collated our Christmas card lists. Heidbrink offered about 200 names and we had, from our lists, about as many more for a first invitational mailing, enlisting membership and support for a Catholic Peace Fellowship. We put together a letterhead listing sponsors and rented a post office box in Staten Island in 1964.
Forest was working then for a daily newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, and thought he could handle the trickle of mail in his off-hours. By November that proved impossible, the trickle had become a flood.
The War Resisters League near City Hall in Manhattan had two small rooms by used by the Summerhill Society, which was only partly active. On New Year’s Day, 1965, Forest moved into one of the Summerhill offices and put up the hand lettered sign, “Catholic Peace Fellowship.” Rent was $25 a month.
I was recently married, teaching part-time as a per diem substitute in New York City schools and hating it. The Fellowship rented the other room and I came on staff with Forest in the spring, both of us squeezed into a space hardly larger that a VW microbus. Months later, with the decline of the Summerhill Society, we took over both rooms. The sponsors allowed us to take $65 dollars a week for salaries, but weeks went by when there wasn’t enough in our bank account for me to write Forest’s check or for him to write mine.
In July 1964, Phil and Dan Berrigan came to our homes (we were living in two apartments in the same building on the Lower East Side). During deliberations, Phil looked into Forest’s refrigerator and Dan into mine. Together they found two quarts of milk, a block of Velveeta cheese and some bread. Dan wrote a check. The Catholic Peace Fellowship was back in business again.
The most significant work we did at that initial period was to plant articles in Catholic journals and to publish, with Cardinal Spellman’s impramatur, a booklet by Forest on Catholics and conscientious objection. As the war in Vietnam heated up, we saw an ever-increasing number of conscientious objectors, so that some weeks we did little else but counsel them. We organized demonstrations and helped pull together the anti-Vietnam war coalition known as the “Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam.” We engaged in civil disobedience with a flair.
We took an ad, free, in several Catholic journals offering a criticism of the Vietnam war, written by primarily Gordon Zahn and Jim Douglass. We stimulated the debate on the morality of the war, the debate that culminated in the erosion of the liberal Catholic support for the war and, indeed, in the American Catholic bishops’ renunciation of the war in 1969.
During the fall of 1966 Forest joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation staff at Nyack, N.Y., as special projects coordinator, working two thirds of the time for the Fellowship and one third of the time for the Catholic Peace Fellowship. He moved to Rockland County and I stayed in Manhattan.
The previous November I had joined four others to burn our draft cards in a public demonstration in Union Square. It was an enormously successful demonstration, capturing headlines and front page photographs in Sunday newspapers all over the country. The burning dramatized our resistance to the draft and stimulated a broad movement of resistance to the draft which coalesced months later.
I had been tried and convicted of a felony and sentenced to six months imprisonment. I served my time from June to November 1968, after appeals were exhausted. Forest came to see me in September at Danbury. He had resigned from the Fellowship of Reconciliation staff and returned to the Catholic Peace Fellowship early that year. He swore me to secrecy in the visitors’ room, then he told me that there was to be a raid on a draft center in Milwaukee, probably in mid-October, and that he intended to participate.
When in October the news of the raid came over the one-ear headphones at Danbury, the small band of draft resisters there held a little party, drank Fizzies and ate ice cream on the “Danbury Quad.”
Both cosecretaries of the Catholic Peace Fellowship were in jail.
I was released in November 1968, Forest left to work full time on the Milwaukee 14 defense. After a five-year hiatus Forest rejoined the Fellowship of Reconciliation staff as editor of Fellowship. I took the position of coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation national program, remaining executive secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.
From our earliest years, local chapters sprang up all over the country. They never asked permission or a “charter” to start the work. It might have proved embarrassing, at the very least, but all went well. The Northern California group, under the direction of Vincent O’Connor penetrated every Catholic High School in several counties of that state – with the cooperation and the thanks of administrators and counselors – to bring teams of draft resisters and conscientious objectors to the students.
The rate of conscientious objection increased significantly whenever this was done.
The New England group, coordinated by Michael True, established an annual conference which continues to attract hundreds every spring, most of them non-members.
The Long Island Catholic Peace Fellowship has two chapters, in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and they continue to be very active. Chapters continue to ebb and flow around the country.
Life and work in the Catholic Peace Fellowship has not been unremitting skittles and beer. The Berrigan style draft board raids caused great division. After initial enthusiasm, the Catholic Worker criticized the blurring of non-violence, the tendency toward violence, secrecy and self-congratulation on the part of the raiders.
Nor were we left untouched by the nascent schisms in the wake of Vatican II. Civil disobedience against the state seemed to justify civil disobedience against the Church itself, eventually cutting some off from the very source of our strength.
Dorothy Day was accused, privately, of betraying the very revolution she herself had nurtured. Some elements isolated themselves from the new reality by retreating into new ghettos of their own making.
At the same time, more positively, Catholic pacifism came out into the open. It is no longer an underground stream. Doors are open to us.
In the fall of 1972, I was able to represent the International Fellowship of Reconciliation at the International Pax Christi convocation in Strasbourg, France. The assembly responded vigorously in support of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation plea or support for the political prisoners of the Thieu regime. Cardinal Altrink immediately relayed concern to visit several Vatican offices and to share information we had received from Saigon through the Buddhists.
Such initiatives are not without effect. Pope Paul, for instance, was better prepared for the visit President Thieu forced upon him in 1973. The Pope made the condition of political prisoners the chief topic of discussion, although Theiu claimed that there were none.
The cause of the political prisoners has been a top priority in the Fellowship of Reconciliation programs as well. The staff has organized or assisted in innumerable demonstrations, fasts, tiger-cage vigils, and congressional visitation campaigns in political prisoners behalf. Right now we are distributing mailing tags for keys, so that anyone with a key he no longer needs and 17 cents in postage can take one of these tags, attach the key to it and put it in a letter drop for delivery to the White House.
The message printed on the tag reads: “I am deeply concerned about the tens of thousands of men, women and children who are imprisoned in Vietnam because they spoke out for peace. The Paris Peace Accords, which the United States signed two years ago, guaranteed their release. Today my tax money is still paying to keep those peacemakers in jail. Their freedom is our responsibility. The key to justice may be in your hands.”
We have gone directly to the Vietnam embassy with lists of thousands of prisoners smuggled out of Saigon, and we have asked for explanations and release of the prisoners. Perhaps we have had some effect in the cutting of appropriations for Vietnam.
In the past few years, we have undertaken a number of projects. During the summer of 1971 we conducted a six-week summer training program for about 30 people at a private home in Brooklyn. The next summer we were given the use of the Paulist Fathers’ novitiate in Oak Ridge, New Jersey for a joint peace studies and training program with the Washington, D.C. Community for Creative Nonviolence. The Oak Ridge program lasted eight weeks and involved over a thousand people. The following year we had a modest leadership program at the Oak Ridge novitiate.
Last summer we went to the American Baptist Assembly’s camp in Green Lake, Wisconsin, for the 10th anniversary conference of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. This summer we hope to have a small training program in a residential building in Manhattan.
A few months ago the first foreign bishop was allowed to enter North Vietnam since 1954 – Bishop Andrew Grutka of Gary, Indiana. The invitation came through the Catholic Peace Fellowship. We continue a friendly and fruitful relationship with the Justice and Peace Commission in the Vatican, as well as with the Justice and Peace Office of the United States Catholic Conference. Many of our members sit on diocesan peace and justice commissions around the country. Work at this level progresses slowly, unspectacularly, but well, very well indeed.
We must assume that most of our work is ahead of us, and much the harder part. In a sense, the Vietnam war made things easy for us; as the war became increasingly unpopular the media were never more ready to exploit our choreographics. Our doings were blown out of all proportion, and we sometimes we gained credit when we deserved ridicule. I resist recounting grotesque but amusing, examples, as when a white robed “guru” laundered an American flag in a mop bucket and carried it ceremoniously, sopping wet, to a waiting Assistant U.S. Attorney on the steps of the federal courthouse at Foley Square, to mark the capture of Daniel Berrigan by the Block Island bird-watchers. The guru made a photo on the religion page of Time. For a while it seemed that nothing existed unless it was media worthy; nothing – not people, not deeds, not ideas.
It is necessary to emphasize that the Catholic Worker, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Catholic Peace Fellowship are pacifist: We are opposed to the war in Vietnam not only because it is unjust, but because it is a war. If the United States government were fighting on the other side we would be in opposition also, but we would have different and fewer allies.
Catholic pacifists are opposed to war because it is the planned, mass taking of human lives for political purposes and violates God’s exclusive dominion over human life. We are opposed to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and economically enforced starvation also, on the same basis. Given that, how are we to assess the current, the new reality, set our goals and develop the means to achieve them?
The Catholic Peace Fellowship has its own literature service and has developed a peace education packet, made up largely of materials too – pastoral letters of Bishop Dozier and materials form the Shalom Curriculum and the United Church Press. The packet is more action oriented than most curricular materials, but it has gone over well in schools. We have distributed about 250 of them.
We are hoping that a religious community will give us the use of an unused novitiate or house of studies for year-round educational programs, a labor school for the development of organizing skills and for the study of social problems. Such study would be in the context of of the current crises and from the perspective of gospel imperatives and the radical and nonviolent movements of our times.
Establishing such a program with the cooperation of secular and religious non-violent radicals would be a significant development for the movement toward sanity in our world.
We started the Catholic Peace Fellowship out of the Catholic Worker and utilized the organizational structure and technique of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and we continue to function happily within that structure. But it has always seed a deficiency to me that we are not more like the Catholic Worker.
The aim must be nothing less than the construction of a just world social order so that no one’s peace and security might depend on the exploitation , suffering, and death of any other. It is absurd to think that we might succeed. Even so, “the worst has happened, and been repaired.” And we have a special Providence.Ω