Letters to the Editor

Debating Plowshares’ Tactics

Dear Editor: In the past few weeks, you have covered some very important stories related to nuclear weapons for which I thank you. The first reported on Sister Megan Rice and the film in which she is featured, “The Nuns, The Priests, and the Bomb.”

The second reported on the latest Plowshares action in Georgia. The third was a thoughtful letter (May 5) from Dennis Torre questioning Plowshares actions.

I know several Plowshares activists, including Sister Megan Rice and four of the Kings Bay Plowshares who acted on April 4 this year. I also know that not all Catholic peace activists agree with Plowshares actions, but I believe it is safe to say most, if not all, highly respect those who engage in Plowshares actions.

As Mr. Torre writes, Plowshares actions began with the Berrigans. What readers may not know is that there was long, hard, prayerful discernment by the original Plowshares before they agreed to take action.

Even the likes of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, who were very close to the Berrigans and their Plowshares companions, raised the same question that Torre raises: Does a Plowshares action cross the line between violence and nonviolence?
I do not think there is consensus on the answer to this day.

But Plowshares activists continue to spend months if not longer in prayerful discernment before taking the courageous step to do a Plowshares action.

Their name comes directly from the Scriptures: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.”

They are faith-filled people who have tried the mainstream strategies of petitions, letters, phone calls, Congressional visits, marches, rallies, prayer vigils, etc., but see little or no change toward peace and justice.

They know well the story of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple and the controversy over that action: Was Jesus violent in that outburst or was it justified anger at the exploitation of pilgrims and the desecration of his Father’s house?
No one was hurt in the Temple on that day, and no one is ever hurt in a Plowshares action.

Plowshares activists actually succeed because of the lax security at nuclear weapons sites and could probably escape as readily, but they accept responsibility for their actions and literally wait in prayer to be found and arrested. Their priority is similar to Father Dan Berrigan’s when he proclaimed: “Our apologies good friends for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…”

Which is worse: pouring one’s own blood on a weapon of mass destruction, denting it at worst with a hammer, or condoning – or worse supporting – what has the potential of completely destroying all of God’s sacred creation?

Torre asks one more critical question: Where does the magisterium stand on such actions? I cannot answer that in terms of a Plowshares action, but I can cite some recent statements from the Church hierarchy on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions released a declaration, “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” on July 6, 2017 calling on the U.S. and European nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” adding, “The indiscriminate and disproportionate nature of nuclear weapons compel the world to move beyond nuclear deterrence.”

The following day, 122 nations approved a Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On Sept. 20, the first day the Treaty was available for signatures and ratification, the Vatican was one of the first three nations that did so.

Pope Francis has stated that nuclear weapons should be banned.

This is why Plowshares activists sacrifice their personal freedom. This is why they deserve our prayers no matter where we stand on the particular strategy they choose. I encourage everyone to watch “The Nuns, The Priests, and the Bomb” first chance you get to learn even more.


Middle Village


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