On January 14, Bishop Robert Barron was inspired by the recent movie 1917 to publish an essay on war and baptism on his Word on Fire blog. The Bishop (proclaimed by Francis Cardinal George as one of the the Church's best messengers) wrote that Christians on both sides of World War 1 forgot they were baptized into the Mystical Body of Christ and instead slaughtered each other and millions of civilians. In his essay Bishop Barron asked:
How many Christians of that time raised their voices in protest, refused to cooperate with the folly of the war, placed their religious identities above their ethnic or national identities?
then followed with: "Those questions ... answer themselves". Bishop Barron did a wonderful job of contrasting Christianity and war but must not have done much research on the peacemakers of that time. Two of the Friends of Franz and Ben have written to the Bishop to inform him that Pope Benedict XV and several US Catholics including Benjamin Salmon were among those who embraced their religious identity and refused to cooperate in the slaughter. Their letters are copied below.
TO: Bishop Robert Barron
FROM: Fr. Bernard Survil
DATE: Jan 15, 2020
RE: “1917 and Remembering Who We Are”
“…one of the causes of the collapse of religion in Europe, and increasingly in the West generally, was the moral disaster of the First World War, which was essentially a crisis of Christian identity. Something broke in the Christian culture, and we've never recover-ed from it. If their Baptism meant so little to scores of millions of combatants in that terrible war, then what, finally, was the point of Christianity? And if it makes no concrete difference, then why not just leave it behind and move on? “ Bp. Robert Barron
Bishop Barron, was it the movie “1917” that inspired your January 15, 2020 column? Recall how the 100th anniversary of that World War saw a deluge of articles and media specials on the Great War, The War to end all wars.
Was it not Pope Benedict XV whose Nov 1, 1914 encyclical “Appealing for Peace” that alerted the Catholic World to “the suicide of civilized Europe?” A quick reference to Wikipedia provides more quotes from Benedict’s pen about the horrors developing even then. Does it have to take the visuals of a current movie to awaken and disturb contemporary consciences? Yet, almost three years after Pope Benedict published Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum addressed to the “Primates, archbishops, bishops and other local ordinaries in communion with the Apostolic See,” Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore convened some 65 of his fellow American bishops to a meeting at Catholic University to organize the National Catholic War Council to pledge the full cooperation of U.S. Catholics to President Wilson’s declaration of war. That meeting sadly foretold what the German and Austrian hierarchy would do by tolerating a repeat of WWI within just two decades.
So where can one turn to if our bishops themselves become a part of the war machine? Isn’t that what the Archdiocese of Military Services did during the Iraq-Afghanistan wars and is still ready to do in America’s endless wars?
Answer: Look to two lay Catholics ( the baptized ) with just an 8th grade education but versed in the Gospels and an ear most attentive to their consciences.
One whose story is making the rounds in the movie A HIDDEN LIFE is Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter, beatified in 2007 for having done the right thing during World War II when his archbishop counseled him to take up his military duty for the sake of his wife and children. I saw it at the AMC theater on East Illinois St, Downtown Chicago on December 11th. Saying no to killing, Franz paid with his life, when celibates who are truly free of family obligations, failed to step up.
Another Catholic layman, born and raised in Denver, responded as Pope Benedict XV hoped the Catholic hierarchy would have by writing President Wilson that he would not train to kill his fellow Catholics in Germany. That was Ben Salmon, whose writings and witness are told in detail at the website: www.bensalmon.org. Ben was no celibate, as are we who are free of family obligations to be able to risk all.
But more importantly, Bishop Barron, is that Ben died in Chicago in 1932 and is buried in Mt. Carmel Cemetery just a five-minute walk from the mausoleum where most of Chicago’s bishops are buried. Robert Ellsberg, the publisher of Orbis Books said this about Ben in a comment found on the above website:
Ben Salmon was one of the great witnesses to the Gospel message of nonviolence. Far in advance of official Catholic teaching, he anticipated the teaching of Vatican II on the right of conscientious objection, and prepared the way for such voices as Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Pope Francis. His beatification would enlighten the American Catholics and make an important contribution to advancing the peace mission of the church.
Ellsberg is one of some 800 who are petitioning Cardinal Cupich to initiate the process for the beatification of Ben Salmon. You, Bishop, as one who is from Chicago, a former rector of the Mundelein Seminary, who now finds himself writing about “a crisis of Christian identity” while denying he is “advocating pacifism,” would still do well to be among those who welcome Ben’s Christian pacifism. For if it had been embraced not just by a Ben Salmon but by our U.S. bishops it would at least have reduced to some degree the horrific carnage occurring in Europe rather than adding to it.
Arguments from proportionality in bellum are always too late, be it the USCCB’s in 1971 after the Vietnam War had been raging for years, or looking backward from 2020 to 1917. Resisting evil non-violently from the get-go, as did Ben Salmon and John the Baptist has to be declared the pre-eminently saintly way to living out one’s Christian identity.
To conclude I invite you to endorse The Petition to Cardinal Cupich, www.bensalmon.org/letter with a comment as lengthy as needed to make clear your intent.
January 19, 2020
Dear Bishop Barron,
Our parish, Mary Mother of Mercy in Trumansburg, NY is currently using your “Catholicism” study series. I have heard your writings recommended several times in homilies.
I am writing in response to your column in the Boston Pilot about Baptism and WWI. I have enclosed some related writings I hope you will find time to read.
Clearly, what “broke in the Christian culture” actually happened 1700 years ago at the time of Constantine and the beginning of the just war era of Christianity. Constantine made the new religion legal in his empire in the Edict of Milan with these words, “Let this be so in order that the divine grace which we have experienced in such manifold ways, may always remain loyal to us, and continue to bless us in all that we undertake, for the welfare of the empire.” Thus, the first “Christian” just war theory (CJWT) was written by a pagan emperor before Ambrose, Augustine or Aquinas proposed their exceptions to the Gospel Law of Agape. Before Constantine subverted the earliest practice of the Church, one could not be in the Roman army if he were a Christian. Within 100 years, one could not be in the army unless he were a Christian. Whether CJWT was applied, misapplied or ignored, as was usual, Constantine’s version has always been the operative reality.
CJWY itself is “what we have never recovered from”.
After watching the “1917” film, you assure your readers you had not become so unnerved as to naively advocate pacifism (or Gospel Nonviolence). Instead, you invoke the “in bellum” CJWT principle of proportionality. However, a proposed war has to first meet all the “ad bellum” criteria, then all the in bellum criteria, all the time, in order to be “just”. CJWT has no basis in Jesus or the Gospel and has never been taught with the authority of an encyclical or Church council. It is accepted with perhaps the lowest level of certainty and authority. A Catholic does not have to believe in it. It is a mistake to give CJWT precedence over the Gospel.
John Pollard recently wrote about WWI: “Catholics on both sides invoked “just war” theory to justify the conflict, but Benedict suggested [my emphasis] in his encyclicals that no war, including a total war, could be considered just.” Benedict never issued an ex cathedra teaching based on the Gospel to forbid Catholic participation. Kaisers and presidents exercised a prerogative to judge their own cause, and they chose Constantine’s version of the theory. Pope Francis, who has said we are in the midst of WWIII being fought piecemeal, still has not exorcised CJWT from the Church.
A strange variation on just war theory, employed by the US bishops during the War in Iraq, is the subject of the enclosure written by Robert Waldrop. Only one bishop ordinary, John Botean, fulfilled his responsibility to teach with clarity and authority about that war. (enclosed)
You ask, “How many Christians of that time raised their voices in protest, refused to cooperate with the folly of war, placed their religious identities above their ethnic or national identities?” I too lament how few resisted the war. All the more reason to appreciate the courageous witness to the nonviolent Jesus of those who did resist, at great personal cost, on the basis of their baptismal commitment. In the US, there were some 4000 Conscientious Objectors (CO’s), mostly from the historic peace churches which had never accepted CJWT and been terribly persecuted by Protestants and Catholics in Europe. Of these, only a dozen were Catholic and totally without support from their religious leaders. Most notable of the Catholic resisters was Benjamin Joseph Salmon of Denver whose story is told in the enclosed issue of the Sign of Peace. One hundred years ago today, Ben Salmon was still in a military prison for his stand. Near the end of his incarceration, he became the first US Catholic to write a complete refutation of CJWT. He may have been the first Catholic to ever do so. Even those saints who lived after Constantine and Ambrose and who did not believe that any killing could be done in the name of Jesus, did not leave a written refutation of CJWT, as far as I can tell.
You place much responsibility on the combatants for failing to understand the Church’s theology related to Baptism. We should note that the US bishops first organized themselves as the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) to support, encourage and coordinate Catholic participation in WWI. Even after witnessing the scandal of millions of Christians killing each other over several years, they pledged their patriotism and support for the president and the war. They considered the CO’s to be traitors. Cardinal Gibbons wrote in a letter to his fellow bishops, “This war offers us, indeed, the greatest opportunity in all history of inspiring our men with religion.” (!) The letter was reprinted in the liturgy booklet for the Opening Mass of the USCCB’s November 2017 meeting with every expectation that the bishops would support US war-making for the next hundred years, it seemed.
Few now realize the great lengths the US bishops went to in order to support the “war effort”, making it all the harder for the resisters. Some are described in the enclosure titled, “An Invitation to Rethink 100 Years of Catholic Support for War”. The Handbook of the NCWC is an astounding record of support for WWI that every bishop should be familiar with. The difference between Ben’s witness and the bishops’ approach explains the shocking degree to which militarism has now penetrated our Church in the US at every level. Gospel nonviolence remains a non-thought for our bishops. You cannot expect the laity to reject war on the basis of CJWT principles or theology when no national body of bishops has ever done so authoritatively for a war of their country’s choosing. Yet, it almost seems that you are advocating CJWT be raised from its lowly official status to become part of the Rite of Baptism since you dismiss Gospel nonviolence, the other, older part of our Moral Tradition that deals with the “moral disaster” of war.
The mission of the Messiah, as described in the first reading in our lectionary, was to provide instruction and reveal a path that could lead to ending the great evils of war and militarism, if followed. There is so much evidence in the Gospel that Jesus understood this to be his mission! From the heavenly voice at his baptism quoting the first line of the Song of the Suffering Servant, to Jesus’ refusal of Satan’s proffered gift of worldly power, to his proclamation in the Nazareth synagogue after which he told of God’s favor once bestowed on the Syrian military enemy, Naaman; to the commands to love enemies in the great Sermons, to the Commandment “You must not kill” (in Mt. Mk and Lk) if you wish to inherit eternal life, to the numerous commands of nonviolent love in John’s Eucharistic discourse, to his refusal of armed defense in the Garden, to his forgiveness of the lethal enemies who crucified him as he followed his own teachings to the end, we can see Jesus accomplishing Isaiah’s mission. No wonder that Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa has called Eucharist the Sacrament of Nonviolence. On its most basic level, the first Eucharist provided the physical nourishment for Jesus to take the last steps on his path of nonviolence.
In an earlier time when adult baptism was the norm and catechesis did not hide the possibility of a death like Jesus’, the baptized did not go to war. Having aligned itself with the Roman Empire and accepted Christian participation in its military, Church unity began to crumble. When empires and nations split, the Church was split as well. The first was the split between Catholic and Orthodox but unity in the nonviolent Jesus as an adult Baptismal commitment had already been fractured and Gospel based pacifism became only a golden thread, persisting until today.
You write, “If their Baptism meant so little to...millions of combatants...then what, finally, was the point of Christianity? And, if it makes no concrete difference, then why not just leave it behind and move on?" Here you touch on another scandal of those with authority to teach the Gospel that is greater than that of clergy pedophilia. (see enclosure, “The Seamless Garment…”) This is much like what Franz Jagerstatter once said: “If the Church does not speak out in the present crisis, what difference would it make if no Church door was ever opened again.” I hope you will see the new film about Franz, “A Hidden Life”. Though some say Franz was not opposed to all war, I believe he was opposed to all killing by the end of his journey.
Today, the wars of the US are killing mostly non-Christians, an issue you don’t address. Since all are created in God’s image and are children of God, they too are our siblings. Christians are those who embrace the life ethic of Jesus discernable in the Gospel, a Consistent Jesus Life Ethic. To leave nonviolence towards all, friends and enemies, out of that ethic, is to leave Jesus out.
Of course, the real concern is how to get Christians to remember who they are. Bishops need to play a key role. Perhaps, with the perspective of 100 years and “1917’s” reminder of the evils of WWI, the USCCB might repent of its past support for WWI, agree with Benedict XV that it was “a useless slaughter that brings hell to earth”, agree with Benedict XVI that it is no longer licit to even speak of a just war, and support a sainthood cause for Benjamin Salmon. An individual bishop who took these steps would set an example regardless of what the USCCB does. The “new evangelization” should consider what in the “old evangelization” experienced by Martin of Tours when he was a Roman soldier made it impossible for the young catechumen who wanted to be baptized to remain in Caesar’s army and fight his wars. I’m sure it was not CJWT!
As He has loved us,
2019 Annual Review
Ben's Sainthood drive has moved from Denver to Chicago.
In October 2018 the online petition to advance Ben Salmon's cause for sainthood was written to Archbishop Aquila of Denver, Colorado The Ben Salmon Guild of Denver presented information on Ben's life and witness to the Denver Archdiocese since Ben had been born, educated, worshiped and married in the Denver Catholic community. The Archdiocese followed canonical procedure and forwarded the information to the Archdiocese of Chicago since Ben had spent his final years in Chicago and was interred there.
In August of this year (2019), Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv., Episcopal President of Pax Christi USA, signed the petition and sent a letter to Cardinal Cupich of Chicago urging the promotion of Ben Salmon's cause. At that time the petition was redirected to Cardinal Cupich and continued to gather over 700 signatures and insightful comments. If you haven't signed on yet please do so by filling out the form at the bottom of https://www.bensalmon.org/letter.html. If you have already signed, Thank You. If you wish to add or amend a comment please refill out the form. And please encourage your friends and neighbors to add their endorsements to the petition.
Fr. Bernard Survil spent much of this past fall spreading the story of Ben Salmon's heroic witness to the Gospel throughout Chicagoland. He met with pastors and educators (including Bishop Rojas) and held an All Souls Day vigil at Ben's gravesite.
Ben Salmon and the visual media
This past summer two YouTube videos were produced: The Life and Message of Ben Salmon and There is No Just War. These videos are respectively 12 and 9 minutes long and recommended for showing in classrooms or church group meetings where there is time for discussion of the relevance of Ben's witness in this age of perpetual war.
And now on the big screen is a movie that the Friends of Franz & Ben had a small but essential hand in bringing to the big screen. A Hidden Life recounts the story of a Catholic conscientious objector in World War II, 25 years after Ben Salmon took his stand. It tells of Austrian Franz Jagerstatter who refused to fight for the Nazis, against the advice of his Church leaders and who was executed for his beliefs. The film has received mostly positive reviews, such as this one. It has been in limited release but is scheduled for a broader showing beginning in January. For information on where and when to see it go to https://tickets.ahiddenlifemovie.com.
Since Franz and Ben had much in common, Friends of Franz & Ben have been handing out "holy cards" with the Ben Salmon icon on one side and an introduction to Ben on the other at select showings of A Hidden Life. We hope that Ben Salmon's story will someday soon also make it to the big screen.
Ben Salmon and print media
In July 2019, the Houston Catholic Worker published the article Ben Salmon, Catholic Conscientious Objector by Michael Baxter, the Director of Catholic Studies at Regis University in Denver. Baxter expanded the article and then published Unsung Hero of WWI in the December 2019 edition of The Catholic Worker. We hope to soon add links to these articles on our Resources page.
Just when you thought this was going to finish before we passed the plate...
Since this seems to be the season to appeal for donations, we are going to get in our plea. First, please donate a few minutes to share with your friends, neighbors, and the next person you pass on the street or in the hall, the witness of Ben Salmon for peace and for overcoming evil with good. If they are receptive, ask if they would like to sign the petition to advance Ben's cause for sainthood. Second, if you attend a showing of A Hidden Life and would like to inform fellow moviegoers about another Catholic CO, send a request for some holy cards to hand out to likely petition signers to: firstname.lastname@example.org. And finally, if you'd like to help with maintaining our website or with travel for Friends to present Ben to classrooms and meetings, you could send funds to St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1031 Chenango St., Binghamton, NY 13901 with a note for "Ben Salmon Cause" on the check. Thank you.
All Souls Day 2019 Prayer Vigil
A Prayer Vigil will be held at Ben Salmon's grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillsdale, Illinois on All Souls Day, November 2, 2019. Come and pray in thanksgiving for Ben Salmon's witness 100 years ago for Gospel nonviolence. In November 1919, Ben was in a military prison in Fort Douglas, Utah because he still refused to aid the "killing machine" and the Great War (WW 1) had been over for a year. (Details are in Ben's Magnum Opus.) With a hundred more years of wars and millions of deaths produced by killing machines, it is time to come together to pray that all may recognize that every person is a child of God and shalt not be killed, to paraphrase Ben Salmon.
This announcement has been circulated in Chicago in hopes of bringing many together at Ben's gravesite. Directions to the vigil can be extracted from your maps or a navigator app with the latitude and longitude of 41.864513, -87.909755. Google will provide directions if you click through to the larger map in this previous blog post.
Father Bernardo Survil, shown in the photo below, will be at Ben's gravesite from 8am to 4pm, so if you have trouble finding the grave once you are in Mt. Carmel cemetery, look for a tall, white-haired, peace-loving priest.
Ben Salmon is getting around
Ben Salmon just popped up online at the Jewish Peace Fellowship website. More specifically, he made his appearance in the February 2019 issue of the Fellowship's monthly newsletter in an article written by Jack Gilroy entitled: "No War is Just: Ben Salmon."
Gilroy shares the highlights of Ben's stand against war and his subsequent torture and punishment by the military, closing the article with a couple paragraphs on the rising Catholic interest in disavowing Just War belief. Ben has made quite an impression on the Shalom readership as several have endorsed the petition to put Ben Salmon on the path to sainthood with one reader stating: "This man is a hero, not a traitor!"
If your curiosity leads you to investigate the Fellowship website, you'll be able to discover the Jewish tradition of pacifism and a Prayer for Peace in a Time of War that should get as wide a coverage as Ben Salmon's witness.
Compassionate Brockport, a group working for a more caring community in Brockport, NY (a village on the Erie Canal just west of Rochester), is holding an arts contest for students from elementary school through college on the theme of Love without Violence. Inspiration for entries can be had from the "exemplary commitments" made "to a world of Love without Violence" by Malala Yousafazi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franz Jagerstatter, Rosa Parks, and Ben Salmon. The guidelines for entries are at https://www.compassionatebrockport.org/ARTS-CONTEST.php.
The Friends of Franz and Ben have made a contribution to the Arts Contest prize fund.
The April 2017 issue of Peace & Change contains an article by Dr. Michael Baxter of Regis University, Denver entitled 'On the Front Lines in "The Army of Peace": The Life and Witness of Ben Salmon to a Church and a World at War.' The link to the published article online is http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pech.12234/full. However, the Friends of Franz and Ben have obtained a license to reproduce the contents of the article on this site and a copy of the article provided by Professor Baxter can be accessed by clicking anywhere on the abstract below.
Please read the article and join the counter-tradition of radical pacifism discussed by Michael Baxter envisions arising from Ben Salmon's witness.
Note that a quote from page 212 of Ben Salmon's Magnum Opus was incorrectly published in the article about 2/3rds of the way down page 16. The quote should be "Evil can be conquered by Good..."
Ben Salmon's present from the US Government arrived in the mail on December 25, 1917. The gift was the 15-page Questionnaire which began with "NOTICE TO REGISTRANT.-You are required by law to return this Questionnaire filled out in accordance with instructions contained herein within seven days from date of this notice. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment for one year and may result in the loss of valuable rights and in immediate induction into military service." Ben got on the Questionnaire mailing list by registering for the draft on June 5, 1917, as required by law. http://www.bensalmon.org/whats-new/the-debut-of-ben-salmons-conscience
The Questionnaire was mailed to all registrants to facilitate their classification into one of five classes. The classes were numbered "in the inverse order of their importance to the economic interests of the Nation, which include the maintenance of necessary industry and agriculture and the support of dependents." Thus, Class 1 consisted of men that were of little importance to the economic interests of the Nation and were the first called to military service. The World War I draft did not empty the Class 1 list so the other classes were not called. The questions determining which class a registrant was assigned to are on the first page of the Questionnaire, shown on the left.
Recall that Ben Salmon submitted his registration with a claim for exemption due to "Conscience" along with a letter to "His Excellency, Woodrow Wilson" stating that he would prefer prison or death before participating in war. Ben continued to speak out against the war in the intervening months and in October 1917 he published and widely distributed a pamphlet entitled "Killing the Wrong Men" in which he made a plea for peace. This pamphlet attracted the attention of the Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor to the FBI) and both the local Denver and national press. After meeting with the US District Attorney for Denver, who must have told Ben that advocating for peace while the US was at war was treason, Ben ceased distribution of the pamphlet. Though he stopped that pamphlet, Ben continued in his attempts to end the war by publishing "Tax the Rich to Pay for the War" in November 1917.
So it could not have been much of a surprise when Ben wrote the following letter to his local draft board on December 26, 1917, the day after he received the Questionnaire, stating he would not fill out the Questionnaire though his refusal would violate the law.
Denver, Colorado, Dec. 26, 1917.
Local Board for Division No. 1,
City of Denver, State of Colorado,
3607 West 32nd Ave.,
The government's Questionnaire was received by me
yesterday -- Christmas day -- the day we celebrated the birth
of Him who bade nations as well as individuals "Love one another."
"You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt
love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love
your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them
that persecute and calumniate you." St. Matthew, V-43,44.
You may inform the proper officials that I refuse to
answer the Questionnaire.
I am legitimately entitled to exemption: a wife and
mother to support. However, I will not use my dependents to
shield me from an institution against which my soul rebels.
War is incompatible with my conception of Christianity.
I positively refuse to aid organized murder, either directly or
indirectly. I must serve God first, and, in serving Him it were
impossible to be other than loyal to my country -- the world.
Ultimately, individuals and nations must awaken and
rally to Christ's Standard or perish. Meantime, I must stand
firm and trust in God.
Let those that believe in wholesale violation of the
commandment "Thou shalt not kill" make a profession of their
faith by joining the army of war. I am in the army of Peace,
and in this army I intend to live and die.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) Ben J. Salmon.
If Ben Salmon had filled out and returned the Questionnaire, having a dependent mother and wife would likely have placed him in Class 3 or 4 and he never would have been drafted. However, he specifically stated in the letter to the Draft Board that he didn't want to take the easy way out when the war and the draft were his soul. On December 26th he gave notice to the Board and to the government that he was going to fight to the finish in the "army of Peace" against the evils of conscription and war.
The seven-day countdown of the window in which to return the Questionnaire had begun when the Questionnaire was mailed and Ben patiently waited throughout the 1917-1918 holiday period for the Board to respond.
The next blog post will detail the Board's actions at the end of the countdown but I will throw in a bit of a spoiler here: Neither the Board nor the US Government acted on Ben's admonition that Jesus bade nations "Love one another." I'll admit that's not much of a spoiler, since the fact that the Nation is not acting out of love is fairly obvious given the US military installations and forces currently stationed in 150 countries around the world. A century later, Ben Salmon's words and witness are needed to remind nations and individuals of Jesus' commandment to "Love one another."
- Steve Smith
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.
Ben's grave is now marked!
On All Saints Day 2017, Ben Salmon's grave was marked with the stone shown below. The Friends of Franz and Ben collected donations to have the stone placed on Ben's unmarked grave in Mt Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Ill. Further information is on the Memorial page.
One hundred years ago on October 29th, 1917, Ben Salmon self-published a pamphlet entitled Killing the Wrong Men, that he hoped would eventually "cob-web" the United States when citizens bought and distributed his circular. The cover letter Ben sent and a copy of the circular are available as a .pdf file here
It is worth noting that radical Catholic Ben Salmon included the footnote: "Our slogan: Loyalty! First to God, then to our country."
As Secretary of the Denver Branch of the People's Council of America for Democracy and Peace, Ben advocated, in his circular, a peaceful resolution to the war the US had recently entered. Circulation of such a "seditious" and "treasonous" (in 1917 America had war fever) idea quickly launched an investigation by the US Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)), led to the revocation of mailing privileges for the circular, and also caused the Knights of Columbus to expel Ben from membership. The result of all this denigration interrupted the distribution of the circular. However, Ben quickly rebounded and got out an improved circular a few weeks later, though it didn't fare any better with the censors. Details can be found at http://www.bensalmon.org/pamphlets.html
Though the Government plagued Ben and his neighbors with its investigation, the final result was that Ben was not prosecuted (the case was closed when Ben was sentenced to hard labor by the US Army) and his threatening pamphlets were preserved in the Bureau archives to be read in the 21st century.
Friends of Franz and Ben