By Mark Scibilia-Carver and the Friends of Franz & Ben Leadership Group
On April 6, 1917 the United States House of Representatives voted in favor of President Wilson’s war resolution and the U.S. entered WWI. On April 18, while meeting as the trustees of Catholic University (CU), two Cardinals and six Archbishops signed a letter which was delivered to Wilson by James Cardinal Gibbons. In the most effusively patriotic language possible, it promised all out support of U.S. Catholics for Wilson and the war.
That promise was kept. Three cardinals, including Gibbons, set up a general “Convention” of Catholics which took place at CU on August 11-12. “There were present official representatives, clerical and lay, from sixty-eight dioceses...twenty-seven national Catholic organizations and also of the entire Catholic press…In November, the Archbishops of the United States constituted themselves the National Catholic War Council. “ (Handbook of the NCWC, pages 8,10) The NCWC is considered the predecessor of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), making 2017 its centenary year.
Cardinal Dolan failed to mention that by the time the U.S. entered the war, millions of baptized Christians on both sides had killed and savaged each other in the war. Pope Benedict XV had termed it a useless slaughter, had called for a Christmas Truce on December 7, 1914, which was briefly observed by soldiers themselves (and later became the subject of the film Joyeux Noel), and had continued fervent efforts to end the conflict.
On August 1, 1917, Benedict issued a note to all the warring nations calling for peace and providing a plan on which it could be established. On August 15, Benedict’s Apostolic Delegate to the U.S. sent a note to Cardinal Gibbons asking him to “exert his influence” to have Wilson endorse the Pope’s peace plan. Gibbons assured the Delegate he would do all he could to further the Pope’s wishes. While not for certain, it is doubtful Gibbons kept this promise. In any case, the NCWC had just been formed and its direction was not altered. Gibbons was intent on using the war to further Catholic ascendancy in the U.S. (for more detail see “Snubbed, Pope Benedict XV and Cardinal James Gibbons”)
Having ignored this history, Cardinal Dolan failed to express concern about what it has led to, the pervasive Catholic support for war and militarism that is so evident today. One has only to attend a funeral Mass for a Catholic killed in Iraq or Afghanistan to see the glorification of war and warriors in a religious setting. Some idea of what a counter-gospel message is given at these funerals can be gotten by viewing the “Scroll of Remembrance” at: www.thecatholiccostofwar.org, which lists over 1000 U.S. Catholics killed in these wars. The homilies at these Masses reveal a “style of politics” that will ensure another century of Catholic support for war.
In his Presidential Address to the Fall Assembly, Cardinal DiNardo said our contribution to society as a people of faith “...is always to witness to the Gospel” and “Let us follow our Holy Father ever more closely.” To date, only one bishop who is an ordinary has made reference to the Gospel in relation to U.S. wars. Most bishops consider themselves just warrists and these can make no reference to the Gospel to support any killing. Just War Theory carries very little doctrinal weight, having never been articulated in a papal encyclical or by a council of the Church (see "In 1918, this American Catholic accepted a death sentence rather than go to war" for an update on the status of Just War Theory). The bishops have not even been able to use Just/Unjust War Theory to approve of Catholic participation in U.S. wars which are as patently unjust as WWI. Rather than fall back on the tradition of Gospel Nonviolence as lived by many saints and the early martyrs, they presently approve of Catholic participation in our wars via documents titled “Responsible Transition” written by a bishop who chaired the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. The documents make war policy suggestions to the government and avoid teaching what the moral consequences of participation in an unjust war are. (Killing in an unjust war is murder.) Thus the US bishops continue supporting Catholic participation in our wars with no reference to either part of our Moral Tradition. Bishops who are concerned “always to witness to the Gospel” have certainly not been courageous or convincing teachers of the truth about Jesus.
Cardinal DiNardo, well known for his pro-life advocacy, responding to the November 5th massacre at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas said: “A Culture of Life cannot tolerate and must prevent senseless gun violence in all its forms.” Perhaps the Cardinal simply does not consider the last 26 years of U.S. war making, with millions killed, to have entailed any senseless gun violence or he would have tried to prevent it. Nor has he reckoned with the fact that among those killed are thousands of the unborn along with their mothers. On November 10, Pope Francis categorically condemned not only “the threat of their use” but also “their very possession” when speaking of nuclear weapons, yet Cardinal DiNardo didn’t mention this in an address otherwise concerned with following "the Holy Father ever more closely.” One hundred years earlier, Cardinal Gibbons was no closer to following Benedict XV.
Ed Loring of the Open Door Community (now of Baltimore), Joe Byrne of Jonah House, and I were able to witness to the Gospel and a Consistent Jesus Life Ethic on the sidewalk outside the Baltimore Basilica as the bishops entered for the opening Mass.
We put Ben Salmon’s five foot tall icon at the gate, spread signs along the sidewalk and held others:
There is no such animal as a just war- Ben Salmon
Either Jesus was a liar or war is never necessary -Ben Salmon
Mass abortions are the inevitable consequence of modern war -Fr. Charles McCarthy
After 100 years of “rendering to Caesar” it’s still a National Catholic War Council
The only “Responsible Transition” is to Gospel Nonviolence
We are Un-American: We are Catholic -Dorothy Day , 1948
1000+ Catholics have died in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan
You are my friends if you do what I command you. Love your enemies (3X) +Jesus+
$ on war is theft from the poor. Observe the Day of the Poor. Repent of support for U.S. war.
Archdiocese for the Military Services: “Force Multiplier” for the Pentagon, Spiritual enabler of the Works of War
(At this meeting, Archbishop Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services took over the chair of the bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee, after being elected to this position the previous year.)
It has also been 100 years since Ben Salmon’s prophetic witness and resistance to war was ridiculed, condemned and ignored by Catholics of all stripes. He had an unusual combination of courage, love and wisdom that enabled him to endure insults, torture, prison and heartbreak for his faith in the nonviolent way of Jesus. We pray his example will lead many to non-cooperate with war and militarism and bring one more bishop the grace to teach with authority that it is no longer licit to even speak of a just war. In fact, it never was.
Sunday, November 11, 2018 will be the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the “War to End All Wars” that didn’t, as well as the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, whose conversion to Christ made it impossible for him to continue serving in the military, is the patron saint of soldiers. When the USCCB has its opening Mass on that day, perhaps the liturgy booklet will contain the words of St. Martin and of Benjamin Joseph Salmon, true witnesses to the Gospel.