First, let me offer a personal confession: I am old enough to remember what it felt like to anxiously wait to learn where my birth date fell in one of the final U.S. military draft lotteries during the Vietnam War era. If you happen to be that old, then the odds are much better that you are familiar with the work of Father Daniel Berrigan.
One more confession: It will also be easier to understand this post if, at one point in your life, you were a strong supporter of abortion rights and then you started reading the works of political liberals -- in some cases socialists -- who were also defenders of the weakest of the weak, as in unborn children.
Thus, with all of that in my past, it was interesting to read the news-media obituaries and tributes to Father Berrigan this week.
Journalists, of course, put most of their focus on his anti-war activism -- which was totally appropriate. More than a few (think "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard") discussed the degree to which Berrigan and his brother Philip became public figures and even symbols in popular culture.
It would be easy to say that he was just an anti-war leader and, in the eyes of many conservatives, someone who went overboard in his criticism of America. It would have been easy to say that, and that alone. However, I also wanted to see if journalists would deal with some of the other truly countercultural implications of Father Berrigan's beliefs.
In short, I was interested in noting what journalists mentioned, as opposed to what they edited out of this radical life story. Thus, here is a short and rather easy test. Which of the following summaries of Berrigan's life and career is from Crux and which is from The New York Times? I made them extra long to show more context:
For the Jesuits, Father Berrigan was both a magnet to bright young seminarians and a troublemaker who could not be kept in any one faculty job too long. At one time or another he held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Seminary, Loyola University New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell and Yale. Eventually he settled into a long tenure at Fordham, the Jesuit university in the Bronx, where for a time he had the title of poet in residence.
Father Berrigan was released from the Danbury penitentiary in 1972; the Jesuits, alarmed at his failing health, managed to get him out early. He then resumed his travels.
After visiting the Middle East, he bluntly accused Israel of “militarism” and the “domestic repressions” of Palestinians. His remarks angered many American Jews. “Let us call this by its right name,” wrote Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, himself a contentious figure among religious scholars: “old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism.”
Nor was Father Berrigan universally admired by Catholics. Many faulted him for not singling out repressive Communist states in his diatribes against the world order, and later for not lending his voice to the outcry over sexual abuse by priests. There was also a sense that his notoriety was a distraction from the religious work that needed to be done.
Not the least of his long-running battles was with the church hierarchy. He was scathing about the shift to conservatism under Pope John Paul II and the “company men” he appointed to high positions.
And now, contrast that with this summary:
At various points, Berrigan opposed U.S. military involvement in Central America, the two U.S.-led Gulf Wars, and the war in Kosovo.
Despite his image as a radical leftist, Berrigan was also an outspoken opponent of abortion. During a 1984 talk at a Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Berrigan denounced what he called a “theory of allowable murder” in contemporary society.
Christians should have no part in “abortion, war, paying taxes for war, [or] disposing of people on death row or warehousing the aged,” Berrigan said on that occasion. One cannot be pro-life and against a nuclear freeze, he insisted, or be a peace activist and defend abortion.
Later in life, Berrigan became a supporter of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. In 2012, he appealed to Trinity Church in Manhattan to drop charges against protesters, including a retired Episcopalian bishop, who occupied one of its empty lots.
“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan said at a demonstration in the park that was once the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street.
“If faith does not touch the lives of others, it has no point … This faith was embodied in the Occupy movement from the first day,” he said. “The official churches remained slow. It is up to us to take the initiative, and hope the churches catch up.”
Like I said, it's not a very hard test.
Here is the link to the Crux piece and you can click here for the first piece, which was the one from the Times. Does the word "abortion" even appear in this later piece? Look it over and see for yourself.