John Dear, SJ interviewed today on Democracy Now

John Dear, SJ interviewed today on Democracy Now April 20, 2009

Jesuit priest John Dear, for those who are not aware, has been at the forefront of the Catholic peace movement for years. He’s been arrested over 75 times for his nonviolent protest of war and nuclear weapons. He was harassed by the u.s. military who chanted “Kill, kill, kill” in the front yard of his rectory in New Mexico. His response was to go outside and to command, in the name of God, that they not go to Iraq and that they leave the military. His opposition to the Iraq War got him kicked out of a middle-upper class parish of military families in New Mexico. His latest book is his autobiography, A Persistent Peace. In today’s interview with Democracy Now!, Dear discusses President Obama’s recent statement that, as the only nation to use a nuclear bomb, the united states has a responsibility to lead the way toward a nuclear-free world, as well as key points in his life of following the nonviolent Jesus.

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  • Fr. Dear is an inspiration to us all.

  • Greg

    Is he even a priest?

  • alex martin

    Is he wearing a suit in that picture?

  • Greg – Yes, of course he’s a priest.

    Alex – In the interview he appeared to be wearing a dress shirt with a jacket over it. As you might expect of a television interview, the camera did not move down to his pants-region, so I was not able to catch a glimpse of them. If you’re that interested in Fr. Dear’s wardrobe, I suggest you watch the video rather in its entirety.

    Great discussion starters guys!

  • Greg

    Michael Iafrate,

    I appreciate what he is doing…but I prefer how the peace movement has been advanced by such wonderful priests as Fr John Rausch.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Fr John Dear is a wonderful priest and a terrific witness to the gospel of peace.

    God Bless

  • Mark Gordon

    I’m a former soldier and the father of a soldier, but I find that voices like Dear, Berrigan (RIP), Bourgeois, and others are absolutely essential for reminding us that militarism and war are not the answer to the challenges we face in the international order, just as violence isn’t the answer in our personal lives. I am not a pacifist because I believe that there is a legitimate right to self-defense, but a nonviolent world is certainly the goal toward which we should all be working.

    That said, it is disappointing when the message of someone like John Dear is mixed with the usual litany of complaints originating from dissenting groups within the Church. For instance, in an article following the death of JPII, Dear wrote: “Sooner or later, whether in ten years or one hundred, the Church will ordain women, allow clergy to marry, permit local communities to elect bishops, welcome gays and lesbians and respect other religions. The tide of history cannot be stopped.”

    When Fr. Dear identifies himself with this laundry list, doesn’t he limit the range and impact of his central message of nonviolence? Doesn’t he make the same mistake that priests working in the pro-life movement make when they embrace reactionary elements within the Church?

  • That said, it is disappointing when the message of someone like John Dear is mixed with the usual litany of complaints originating from dissenting groups within the Church.

    When Fr. Dear identifies himself with this laundry list, doesn’t he limit the range and impact of his central message of nonviolence?

    Yes, he does limit the range and credibility of his message, which pains me greatly. In fact, I think that social justice gets a very bad name partially on account of who had advocated it throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.

  • ron chandonia

    In a presentation sponsored by our local Pax Christi group, John Dear recently spoke at Atlanta’s Carter Center. It was an interesting talk, and I bought (and read) his book as a result. I agree with his views on war, but parts of his book reminded me (unhappily) of James Carroll’s An American Requiem. Father Dear (a phrase he understandably dislikes) sometimes seems too much the pampered child who is never quite satisfied with the ways of other people.

    Some of his views about Church teachings and policies seem not so much grounded in the principles of Christian nonviolence as reflective of an “I know best, so there!” outlook. To the extent that is the case, it certainly hurts the peace movement. And John Dear is by no means alone. I also wish Roy Bourgeois had waited for the Obama administration to close the School of the Americas before he decided to take on the Vatican over women’s ordination.

    • Even if Fr. Dear can be wrong, possibly even heretical, on many things, I do like how many are able to recognize that this does not mean we should ignore his voice, nor that we can’t accept what good he has done as well. How many Catholics (like myself) respect the opinions of C.S. Lewis? Yet, for what good he has done (John Paul II and Hans Urs von Balthasar respected his works greatly), it is also clear there is an anti-Catholic bias throughout his writings, and these lead him to many disastrous mistakes as well.

      This is something I think we need to realize more and more in our present age. Respecting people for their contributions does not mean we neglect their errors, nor that, when we honor them as a person for the good they have done, this automatically means we are honoring their sins. If it did, the Church would have a difficulty finding anyone to be a saint.

  • Yes, he does limit the range and credibility of his message, which pains me greatly.

    Some would argue that his credibility is greater because he connects his views on nonviolence with these other issues.

    Some of his views about Church teachings and policies seem not so much grounded in the principles of Christian nonviolence as reflective of an “I know best, so there!” outlook. To the extent that is the case, it certainly hurts the peace movement.

    I’m not sure what the alternative would be for a passionate advocate for pacifism (that it is NEVER okay to kill human beings)… We should be thankful for those who offer a prophetic challenge to the Church in such strong terms.

    also wish Roy Bourgeois had waited for the Obama administration to close the School of the Americas before he decided to take on the Vatican over women’s ordination.

    I don’t agree with what Bourgeois did, and I agree that his actions could have a harmful affect on the SOA Watch movement, but he certainly didn’t intend to “take on the Vatican” in any sense.

  • Believing that women should be ordained does not make one a “heretic.”

  • Michael I

    Just to be specific, I said “even if,” as a general statement, allowing that if he (or anyone else) were one day determined to hold material or formal heresy (not saying he will), that would not detract from his good.

    On the issue of ordaining of women priests, I think the issue is complicated because the discussion is often made on conflicting levels of discourse. Some people only discuss their personal desires, some think not only should women be allowed to be priests, but they should be made so, whether or not it is canonically possible, some wish they could be but don’t think they can, et. al.

    I don’t Fr. Dear’s position, nor was I thinking of it when I replied.

    And in case one wanted to know, I don’t think they can, though I don’t really want to enter that debate.

  • Gabriel Austin

    I fear Father Dear is attempting a simple solution to a complex problem. Dostoyevsky warned us against the great simplifiers.
    The laboratories at Los Alamos which so upset Fr. Dear are also working on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. It seems probably true that the argument from deterrence has worked remarkably well. Rather than merely get arrested in a comfortable manner [like the ineffective Berrigan brothers], Fr. Dear might do better to persuade the voters and their Congressmen of the value of his position.

  • I wish that I could give him a haircut, that’s all.

  • david

    Rev. Dear is coming to DC Wednsday, and I’m fired up to see him. His message is a challenge, and an inspiration. But darn it, I hope that he doesn’t wear his denim trousers.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    Mark, great points. I saw John Dear talk a few years ago and was not impressed. He didn’t like my suggestion that the peace movement has failed because of its failure to be pro-life.

  • Mark Gordon

    Nate,

    I agree. I think what many people – myself included – would like to see is a synthesis of the “pro-life,” peace, and anti-poverty movements, anchored firmly in the heart of the Church. This, it seems me, should be the meaning of the “seamless garment” approach to building a culture of life. But when either side aligns itself uncritically with political movements outside the Church or dissenting elements within, the centrifigal forces created drive us all apart. I think we see this dynamic repeated again and again on this blog, for instance.

    Reading some of Fr. Dear’s writings on liberation theology, for instance, he seems to ignore the fact that in practice it is sometimes twisted into a justification for revolutionary violence and the brutal exercise of state power. Likewise, Fr. Dear’s involvement with Call to Action has brought him into strategic alliance with organizations that endorse the violence of abortion. I find these compromises on his stated principles as repugnant as when “pro-life” priests endorse politicians who pursue war, torture and other assaults on human dignity.

  • I’m surprised to hear you say that, Nate. Which peace movement has not been “pro-life”? The peace movement in general, or the Catholic peace movement? If you mean the former, is that not irrelevant? If you mean the latter, can you provide some examples? I found in my own participation in Catholic peace activism, the SOA Watch movement, etc. that the Catholic peace movement is largely anti-abortion and that they connect this concern with an overarching stance of nonviolence. I know of no Catholic peace movement spokespersons who were not also anti-abortion. Do you?

    David – Enjoy Fr. Dear’s talk. I’ve heard him a few times now, and I am moved every time.

  • Reading some of Fr. Dear’s writings on liberation theology, for instance, he seems to ignore the fact that in practice it is sometimes twisted into a justification for revolutionary violence and the brutal exercise of state power.

    Unfounded statement on liberation theology. Please show how, in practice, liberation theology encouraged “revolutionary violence.” I find your accusation that it justified “the brutal exercise of state power” puzzling considering liberation theology’s emergence from within a context of extreme state violence and thus the experience of widespread martyrdom.

    Likewise, Fr. Dear’s involvement with Call to Action has brought him into strategic alliance with organizations that endorse the violence of abortion. I find these compromises on his stated principles as repugnant as when “pro-life” priests endorse politicians who pursue war, torture and other assaults on human dignity.

    To my knowledge, Dear’s “involvement” with Call to Action has been to give a lecture or workshop here or there specifically on peacemaking. If you think this means he has “compromised” his views on abortion, please demonstrate how.

  • Even if Fr. Dear can be wrong, possibly even heretical, on many things, I do like how many are able to recognize that this does not mean we should ignore his voice, nor that we can’t accept what good he has done as well.

    Henry, I *completely* agree with this sentiment, while I think that we have to remember how difficult it can be to exercise it in practice, as combox discussions here and elsewhere all too easily demonstrate.

    Unfortunately, too many (although certainly not all) Catholics who accept the Church’s teachings on the standard controversial issues (contraception, abortion, ordination of men alone, homosexual acts, etc.) have ceded the social justice issues to those who don’t accept the Church’s teachings. One of the reasons I was so interested in EC and then VN was because here I found Catholics who agreed with Church teaching on the hot-button issues but who also very were fervent about her social justice teachings… I’d hoped to learn something about bringing passion to both sets of issues — something not commonly found.

    • Chris

      I think the political reality has sadly made it difficult to find the two united, though they should be. Obviously the expression of that union can also be difficult, especially because, even if one lives them out, what comes up in discussion might not always make it apparent.

  • Mark Gordon

    Unfounded statement on liberation theology. Please show how, in practice, liberation theology encouraged “revolutionary violence.” I find your accusation that it justified “the brutal exercise of state power” puzzling considering liberation theology’s emergence from within a context of extreme state violence and thus the experience of widespread martyrdom.

    I didn’t write that liberation theology per se “encouraged” or “justified” revolutionary violence. I wrote that in practiceit is sometimes “twisted” into a justification for revolutionary violence. This seems to be precisely the point of the CDF’s 1984 INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE
    “THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION”,
    written of course by Joseph Ratzinger. As the document makes clear, a serious problem arose from the adoption by some liberation theologians of Marxism as a tool for social analysis, and later, as a program of political action. Since LT is, in the words of Gutierrez, “a theology of salvation in the concrete historical and political circumstances of today,” some Catholics influenced by LT joined in revolutionary violence in Nicaragua and other countries. And some Marxists, such as the Sandinistas, cynically adopted the language of liberation theology to justify both armed struggle and the exercise of state power.

    My point isn’t to argue the relative merits of LT, revolution or Latin American socialism, much less relive the 1980’s. My point is that Fr. Dear treats Liberation Theology as an unalloyed good, without acknowledging that it was sometimes twisted into a justification for violence. This seems like a significant omission for someone who has worked so hard and long on behalf of nonviolence.

    To my knowledge, Dear’s “involvement” with Call to Action has been to give a lecture or workshop here or there specifically on peacemaking. If you think this means he has “compromised” his views on abortion, please demonstrate how.

    Right, but the context is important, is it not? For Fr. Dear to address a group that includes Catholics for a Free Choice and not challenge them on the violence of abortion in “prophetic” language strikes me as dissonant. Again, my point is that those who have painted themselves into political categories – whether outside the Church or within – often fail to present the whole Gospel of Life for fear of offending their allies.

  • Mark Gordon

    Sorry for the unclosed italics tag above. Ugh.

  • Mark – Citing a text that agrees with your view won’t do in this case. You’ve not demonstrated anything, other than Ratzinger’s understanding which has been shown to be limited an inaccurate.

    How do you know that John Dear did not mention abortion in his work with Call to Action? Were you there?

  • One must not confuse speaking out the dangers of a system of theological reflection (such as scholasticism) does not mean everyone without that system or who employs it falls under the spectre of condemnation or is to be rejected. That some popular liberation theologians (in some circles of liberation theology) were mixed up is without question — liberation theologians themselves recognize this. But to then to use the possible dangers as to deny the good within is problematic, especially since the good within liberation theology is actively recognized by Vatican documents, and indeed, ideas from it have become officially proclaimed by the Vatican.

    If we thought warnings meant condemnation, then we must reject the schoolmen. Obviously, we do not.

  • Mark Gordon

    Citing a text that agrees with your view won’t do in this case. You’ve not demonstrated anything, other than Ratzinger’s understanding which has been shown to be limited and inaccurate.

    Well, we all cite texts that agree with our views, don’t we? You, for instance, rely on unnamed texts that apparently demonstrate that Ratzinger’s understand of LT is “liminted and inaccurate.”

    Read any general history of the Sandinista movement, friendly or otherwise, and you’ll discover that LT was indeed co-opted by those engaged in the armed struggle against Somoza. That’s certainly the case with Ernesto Cardenal, the Jesuit who was accompanied the Sandinistas into Managua in 1979 and was named the first culture minister of the new regime. Again, my point isn’t to debate the legitimacy of the Nicaraguan Revolution. I’m not a pacifist, so I believe there is a right to revolution under the principle of self-defense. My point – again – is that Fr. Dear seems to simplistically credit LT without noting that it was sometimes put at the service of violence.

    How do you know that John Dear did not mention abortion in his work with Call to Action? Were you there?

    No, I wasn’t there, and I concede the point. But when Fr. Frank Pavone is routinely invited to speak on the topic of abortion to politically conservative audiences, it is proper to wonder whether he is challenging those groups on their advocacy of violence in various forms. In the same way, when Fr. Dear is repeatedly invited to speak to Call to Action national and regional conferences, one wonders whether he is deliberately blunting his prophetic voice.

  • As an individual committed to non-violence and resident of New Mexico, along with being the member of a “middle class family,” i find your characterization of Fr. Dear’s statements to lack veracity and they fail to acknowledge the reality that Fr. Dear’s dismissal was not simply a matter of “middle-upper class” military families harassing him, but it was in fact that he had antagonized over the course of a long time.

    While I was not there to witness what took place, many accounts (contrary to his own) of Fr. Dear’s last months as pastor in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe narrate that he baited his parishioners and that he preached that any of his parishioners in the National Guard who did not lay down their arms were damned. In my humble opinion, that is not the behavior of a pastor who truly wants to guide his sheep – it is the behavior of one who wants to force his flock to submit to his will forcefully. To my knowledge, neither Gandhi nor Dorothy Day ever demanded that their followers submit to their ideological vision of the world, they instead lead people gently to a Catholic vision of the world, one that defies the Calvinistic/American view of the world.

  • Gabriel Austin

    I must make a confession. After years of hearing about liberation theology, I have never found a decent definition of it. Is it a theology of liberation [whatever that might mean]? Or is it a liberation of theology? Or is it a liberation from theology?

    Or – as I suspect – is it simply combining two words that can make one feel good?

    In theory, theology is a science [“a body of knowledge”] like any other science. What then will distinguish “liberation” theology from political theology, or sociological theology, or psychological theology or Democratic theology or or or …etc.etc.?

  • Is it a theology of liberation [whatever that might mean]? Or is it a liberation of theology? Or is it a liberation from theology?

    1 (e.g. Guitierrez) and 2 (e.g. Segundo). But not 3.

    Or – as I suspect – is it simply combining two words that can make one feel good?

    Consider the lives and martyrdom of Oscar Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador and reflect a little more on the source of your suspicion that liberation theology is done in order to make the practitioners “feel good.” Think — and maybe pray — before you say another word about it.

    In theory, theology is a science [“a body of knowledge”] like any other science. What then will distinguish “liberation” theology from political theology, or sociological theology, or psychological theology or Democratic theology or or or …etc.etc.?

    The option for the poor.

  • alex martin

    I asked about his wardrobe b/c I always find it odd when men who’ve chosen the priesthood as their vocation choose not to dress like it. As if they’re embarrased by the collar. I feel the same about nuns who choose not to wear habits.

    “Believing that women should be ordained does not make one a “heretic.””

    Perhaps not, but it does put one outside of what the Church teaches on the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Church has spoken on this matter and ended debate on it. For someone to persist in that belief, and certainly to speak out about it, puts one in a very dangerous position theologically.

    • Alex – There is no one model of priesthood. Not all models of priesthood put the kind of emphasis on wardrobe that you would like. Some priests engaged in the difficult work of peacemaking are comfortable doing so in the collar (I think of large portions of the careers of the Berrigan brothers, for example), others are not. John Dear, in fact, wears the collar sometimes. Sometimes he doesn’t. This is no longer an issue in the Church, really, save for those who think the priesthood is simply about dressing a certain way.

      The Church has spoken on this matter and ended debate on it.

      The Church certainly didn’t end debate on the ordination of women. The debate goes on.

      For someone to persist in that belief, and certainly to speak out about it, puts one in a very dangerous position theologically.

      Maybe. Maybe not. That’s precisely what the debate is about. Unless you mean “dangerous” in the sense of the possibility that ecclesial authorities might punish the person. If you mean the latter, John Dear doesn’t seem to be in much danger.

  • On the matter of the ordination of women, the Church has definitely declared that it question is closed: it is not possible. The CDF defined that the teaching a *definitive* one, in the context of explaining Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “here we have an act of the ordinary Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff, an act therefore which is not a solemn definition ex cathedra, even though in terms of content a doctrine is presented which is to be considered definitive” (Eng. ed. of L’OR, 29 June, 1994, p. 7). Note as well that one of the reasons JPII issued OS was “that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance” (4).

    While this teaching is not formal dogma — and hence denying it isn’t heresy in the formal sense — it is nonetheless definitive and demands the assent of intellect and will of the faithful.

    The only worthwhile debate left is how best to explain this teaching… any debate over its truth is utterly pointless.

  • Chris – I am aware of the CDF’s position and its claim that the matter is closed. Nevertheless — and this was my point — the CDF did not end the debate, as Alex claimed. The debate continues.

    Of course, the ordination of women is not the topic of this post. Not that there is any worthwhile discussion of Dear’s interview going on here… Most of you seem to have taken the opportunity to 1) make fun of his haircut and/or wardrobe, 2) take cheap shots against liberation theology, 3) reassert your muscular “orthodoxy.”

    Why even allow comments at this point?

  • Of course, the ordination of women is not the topic of this post. Not that there is any worthwhile discussion of Dear’s interview going on here… … Why even allow comments at this point?

    I think I understand your frustration, Michael… comboxes often quickly go off on tangents. I think your question addresses the heart of blog comboxes in general, and even blogs to so degree… what’s the point? Why bother?

    I’ll stop now, though, in that this comment isn’t about Fr. Dear’s interview either! 🙂

  • alex martin

    Michael, in all honesty, I find it difficult to take seriously the words of a priest who pushes an ideology the Church does not explicitly teach (pacifism), even though I am open to the idea, when he holds dear a belief the Church most certainly does teach against (the ordination of women).

    Call it “distrust by association” if you will but that’s why I find his thoughts on women’s ordination relevant.

    • alex – If you think “distrust by association” is a good method of discernment, go for it. I disagree.

  • alex martin

    Well then let me ask you:

    If he’s wrong on something the Church does explicitly teach, why should I lend him credence on something the Church does not teach?

  • Michael, I meant the larger peace movement. But I’ve also seen that many Catholic Workers do not support any action to fight abortion – “too divisive” is the phrase I’ve heard most often.

  • Greg – I too commend the witness of Fr. John Rausch, especially his work with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.