Anti-War activist Berrigan dies

by Associated Press Sunday, Dec. 08, 2002 at 10:45 AM

Anti-war activist Philip Berrigan dies

BALTIMORE (APOnline) — Philip Berrigan, the former priest whose fight against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons helped ignite a generation of anti-war dissent, has died of cancer. He was 79.

Berrigan's family said he was diagnosed with cancer two months ago and decided to stop chemotherapy last month. He died Friday night at Jonah House, the communal residence for pacifists that he founded.

His brother, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, officiated over last rites ceremonies Nov. 30, attended by friends and peace activists, family members said.

Berrigan led the "Catonsville 9," a group that staged one of the most dramatic protests of the 1960s. The group, including Daniel Berrigan, doused homemade napalm on a small bonfire of draft records in a Catonsville parking lot on May 17, 1968.

In a statement given to his wife, Elizabeth McAlister, during the Thanksgiving weekend, Philip Berrigan said:

"I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself."

Berrigan was born Oct. 5, 1923, and served as an artillery officer in World War II. He was ordained a Catholic priest in the Josephite Order in 1955.

He participated in the civil rights movement in the South. Berrigan's first public anti-war act was pouring blood on draft files in Baltimore in 1967.

"We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes," he said at the time. "We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war and is hostile to the poor."

Berrigan expanded those views to include opposition to almost any form of established government that would wage war, deploy nuclear weapons or even use nuclear power.

Following the 1968 anti-war protest in Catonsville, the demonstrators were convicted of conspiracy and destruction of government property, but remained free on bail for 16 months until the Supreme Court of the United States declined to reconsider the verdict.

On the day they were supposed to begin serving their sentences, the Berrigan brothers and two others went into hiding. Philip Berrigan was found 12 days later at a church in New York City and was taken to federal prison in Lewisburg, Maine.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in November 1970 that Philip and Daniel Berrigan were leaders of a plot to blow up Washington power lines and kidnap a high White House official. In January 1971, Philip Berrigan, McAlister, and four others were indicted on charges of plotting to kidnap then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and blow up the heating systems of federal buildings in Washington.

Berrigan and McAlister, who was a former nun, were found guilty in April 1972 only of smuggling of letters in and out of Lewisburg prison.

In 1980, Berrigan and seven others poured blood and hammered warheads at a GE nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa. That action began the international Plowshares movement.

Berrigan, who had been arrested at least 100 times and served a total of 11 years in prison for his anti-war and anti-nuclear activities, once said he had no intention of retiring from his career as a peaceful violator of U.S. laws.

"We can't very well do that because of the state of the world, " he said. "We're killing ourselves, and some of us are not making a murmur about it."

Berrigan was released from federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, in December 2001 for his most recent Plowshares activities.

Besides his wife and brother, Berrigan is survived by three children: Frida, Jerry and Kate.
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