Less than a year after the Roman Catholic Church suffered innumerable accusations of high crimes against hosts of its ministers (40 in the Boston Diocese alone), church leaders are now grappling with a vastly different dilemma — that of three Dominican nuns facing the likelihood of five to eight years in the federal hoosegow. The sisters were convicted of trespassing on a federal weapons site, where, sporting the unorthodox habit of white chemical suits, they painted crosses on an N-8 missile silo in their own blood, and attacked the silo with hammers (symbolically pummeling it into a ploughshare). A federal jury convicted the nuns of interfering with the nation’s defense and causing property damage of more than $1,000. The nuns are scheduled to be sentenced July 25.
According to the press accounts, the nuns told the jury that they were compelled to act as the war with Iraq drew near, and because the “U.S. has never promised not use nuclear weapons.” Presumably because that would defeat the entire purpose of having nuclear weapons.
The nuns, Ardeth Platte, 66; Carol Gilbert, 55; and Jackie Hudson, 68; are followers not so much of Jesus of Nazareth, than of the late Vietnam War protester, the Rev. Philip Berrigan. Berrigan was a founding member of the Plowshares Movement, a loosely organized collective responsible for more than 80 acts targeting military installations and equipment. During his religious career, Berrigan was arrested 100 times, or 99 times more often than his savior.
Of course, the situation is vastly different now. At the time of Christ, Rome was the world’s evil empire, a vast, imperial, occupying force. Though, curiously, Jesus did not protest the Roman occupation of the Promised Land. Nor did he voice objection to the practice of slavery or capital punishment. Indeed, he didn’t even protest paying taxes to fund the occupying forces and the decadent lifestyles of their Roman leaders. If there had been nuclear weapons circa 33 B.C., he almost certainly wouldn’t have demonstrated against them either. In fact, the only thing Jesus allowed to upset him were a few money brokers who had set up shop in the Temple who he commenced to thrash to within an inch of their lives. It was for the Nazarene a purely spiritual performance.
When I attended parochial school during the early '70s, our teachers, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were involved mainly in molding young minds. They taught reading, writing, arithmetic and music and they hammered into us the fear of God. The nuns civilized the boys and taught the girls modesty — tried to anyway. Our seventh grade teacher, Sister Paulita, even forbid us to watch M*A*S*H, because Alan Alda was an avowed atheist.
Back then, when one became a nun — sometimes called a “Bride of Christ” — it was essential for her to follow Jesus’ example, thereby ignoring the mundane concerns of this world. After all, if the holy books are to be believed, Christ was as unconcerned with this planet as is a lamppost. Whereas, nowadays, too many of his brides, or widows, seem obsessed solely with the morality of governmental policies.
Of course, by far the majority of the estimated 90,000 nuns remaining in the U.S. continue to do God’s work: teaching, delivering communion to shut-ins, caring for the sick. A few orders, like the Poor Clares and the Adorers of the Precious Blood, do little else than pray and sleep. Mostly pray. But for more and more nuns, the monastic life is no longer diverting enough. Unless I mistake them, these nuns seem to be saying that Christ was a weenie.
In fairness to the convicted nuns, they did do quite a bit of good while locked up. They reportedly knitted dozens of baby blankets for poor families. It follows then, that if the nuns are given eight years in the federal pen, they may do a hell of a lot of good. Anyway, they will certainly have lots of quiet time for meditation and prayer.