The Priest Who Practiced Radical Direct Action: Father Daniel J. Berrigan By Bernardine Dohrn


“In 1970, we received a ‘Letter from the Underground’ from Father Daniel Berrigan, printed in the New York Review of Books. It was a note from a comrade, for Dan too was a ‘most wanted’ fugitive from the FBI and federal law enforcement officials at that time. A Jesuit priest, an acclaimed poet, a committed anti-war activist, his ‘Letter’ was delivered, as was much communication then, not by mail or (landline) telephone, but via the media. Father Dan wrote that ‘Outlawry is the normal condition in which decent men and women are called upon to live today.’ Dan and his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and Mary Moylan, were three of the Catonsville Nine activists who broke into a local draft board office in Maryland in 1968, and then carried paper draft files out into the parking lot where they set them on fire with homemade napalm. Their federal trial was an appeal to higher law, God’s law, and Nuremberg responsibility. The defendants were found guilty of destruction of US property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interfering with the Selective Service Act of 1967.  They were sentenced to a total of eighteen years in prison, Father Dan to three years. Dan Berrigan refused to report to prison, and during his time ‘underground’ he repeatedly appeared publically to conduct church sermons or to give anti-war speeches, further infuriating FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. His was both a playful ‘underground’ and a passionately moral one. He wrote, of the Catonsville action: ‘Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…’ The Weather Underground responded with a much less eloquent ‘communiqué’ to ‘Brother Dan,’ just after he was arrested in 1970. ‘We watched you, Dan, on TV when they took you to jail, smiling and with hands raised, handcuffed, giving the sign of peace. You have refused the corruption of your generation.‘ Mary Moylan would pursue her own path as a fugitive, joining the women of the WUO for a brief period. Phil Berrigan served six years in federal prison, often in solitary confinement; Dan served a year and a half. …”
Beacon Broadside
NYBooks: Letter from the Underground – Daniel Berrigan (August 13, 1970)
The Paris Review – Father Daniel Berrigan: Poet, Priest, Prophet

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This entry was posted in Draft board, Pacifist, Philip Berrigan, Poetry, Religion, Vietnam War, Weather Underground and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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