Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Last Sunday, just after returning home from Mass, I read a piece in the National Catholic Reporter entitled "Landmark Vatican Conference Rejects Just War Theory, Asks for Encyclical on Nonviolence." 

The piece begins: 

"The participants of a first-of-its-kind Vatican conference have bluntly rejected the Catholic church's long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.

Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other "major teaching document," reorienting the church's teachings on violence.

"There is no 'just war,'" the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.

"Too often the 'just war theory' has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war," they continue. "Suggesting that a 'just war' is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict."

"We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence," say the participants, noting that Francis and his four predecessors have all spoken out against war often. "We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence."

I could hardly breathe. Finally, an expression of the simple, radical teachings of Christ. Finally, a statement of the Way, the Truth and the Life, from the personal to the global, that had led me to become a member of the Church in the first place.

As Pope Francis has observed, "War is the mother of poverty." And as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the lay Catholic Worker movement, noted, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

That filthy,  rotten system, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few; where power is used to oppress, punish, and humiliate; where profiteers and politicians feed off an ever-escalating cycle of violence, war and death is precisely what Christ came to deliver us from.

For the solution to all that darkness is love: to love one another the way he loved us.

Monday morning I had the honor of being in downtown LA to help send off a friend from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker, Dennis Apel, to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison. He's 65, with a wife and two teenage children, and was sentenced to 120 days for vigiling against nuclear weapons and our culture of death at Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

As Scott Fina explained in his piece today in the Santa Barbara Independent--"Swords Over Plowshares"--"Dennis Apel left the side of Highway 1 to carry his peaceful protest down the entrance road of Vandenberg Air Force Base. There he was arrested for trespass, although he was standing on ground that is open to the public. Apel knew he was violating a base regulation and expected to be charged and penalized."

Dennis, his wife Tensie, and their fellow community member Jorge Manly-Gil serve the poor of the Santa Maria, CA area. The three of them had driven the three hours down to Los Angeles. Dennis was to self-surrender before noon. This would not be his first time in prison. He was cheerful and strong.  

Ten or twelve of us gathered in a nearby plaza, including Catherine Morris, long-time member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, who is in her 80s. Her husband Jeff Dietrich was also sentenced to 120 days and had entered MDC the week before.

We laid hands on Dennis, and then on Tensie and Jorge, and prayed. Our friend Donald anointed them with holy oil. We sang "Carry It On."

Then Donald, Jorge and I walked Dennis over to the prison. We hugged Dennis goodbye one last time, he and Tensie had one last kiss and then a short, stocky guard who clearly loved his job just a little too much took Dennis outside, turned him head-first against the outside wall, patted him down, and snapped handcuffs on him. On Dennis, this gentle, compassionate husband and father who loves birds, who  as his vocation distributes food and runs health care interference and does errands and goes the extra mile for the poor, and that includes you and me.

Above us loomed the MDC, a 272,000-square-foot prison that opened in December 1988 with a cost of $36 million. The windows are narrow slits. 738 inmates are incarcerated there.

As Dennis entered its maw, Tensie called out, "We love you!"  "You can leave now," the guard barked. "Get out of here. Get moving."

"Nothing changes," the federal prosecutor had jeered at the sentencing hearing for Dennis and two others with similar trespassing charges a couple of weeks before--as if a lack of worldly results were a crime. "Over and over again they get arrested, and nothing changes."

Of course the same could be said of her job.

And then again--there was that conference at the Vatican.


  1. I see your point but see this by Bishop Barron on the late Fr Berrigan:

  2. Powerful blog today. Love it. Love you!

  3. I'll pray for Dennis. (And for that overly brusque guard!) And for peace. In our world, in our cities, but most essentially in ourselves, in myself.

  4. I want to pray for Dennis too and his family. I agree how the just war theory is not interpreted correctly in so many circumstances. But I do think we needed to step in when Hitler was in power- and when we see evil in such a way to oppress helpless people then I do think we are called to act. But I can't say I agree with many of the modern "just" use of violence in our culture.
    I hate to say this but I am kind of angry when I hear good people like Dennis who disobey some stupid rule be punished and his family. Is it worth it? If he knew he could go to prison? I guess I'm curious to understand more about that. There is a lot of injustices in our current court system and in so many right here in America. Maybe I am a but pessimistic but I've come to believe certain things won't really change when it comes to this big systems we have in place and we can only do something small to show our love in our daily lives. God bless Dennis and his family- they are added to my prayers!

    1. Alice, your comment poses many familiar points upon which I've reflected deeply. As soon as I have time, I want to address them in a future post. Thank you so much, and for your prayers--

  5. Thanks, people.

    Feel free to write and share your thoughts and prayers with Dennis. His address is:

    John Dennis Apel
    Register Number 12142-112
    MDC Los Angeles
    Metropolitan Detention Center
    P.O. Box 1500
    Los Angeles, CA 90053


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