Father Daniel Berrigan: May His Soul Rest in Peace

Fr. Dan Berrigan represented in a dramatic way the transformation of the Jesuit religious order from one which was known as a staunch defender of the Catholic faith (the Jesuits were called the “Soldiers of Christ”) to one in which “social justice” became the central theme of the Jesuit hierarchy. Daniel Berrigan simply took that modern vision of the Order to its logical extreme. Pope John Paul II was not a fan of the direction the Jesuit order had taken, nor of the liberation theologians who sought to fuse Christianity with Communism, or the social justice “warriors” like Dan Berrigan. Ironically, at the end of his life, Daniel Berrigan finally may have found a pope as an ally in his fellow Jesuit Pope Francis who seems to share many of Fr. Berrigan’s views on social justice issues, and even has Jeffrey Sachs as an advisor.

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By Tom Pauken l May 10, 2016

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Fr. Daniel Berrigan being arrested at Occupy Wall Street protest December 17, 2011

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., has died at the age of 94. Like many of his fellow Jesuits, Dan Berrigan caught the virus of the 1960s and became a New Left icon with his very public protests against the war in Vietnam. He, his brother (Fr. Philip Berrigan), and seven other activists charged into a draft board office in Catonsville, Md. in May 1968, seized the draft records of young men, and took them outside where the protestors burned them. They became known as the Catonsville Nine and were convicted on federal charges as a result of the incident.

When the Vietnam War ended, Daniel became involved in the anti-nuclear protest movement, which New Left leaders like Tom Hayden had hoped would galvanize the Left along the lines of what had transpired with the anti-Vietnam cause more than a decade earlier. In an action akin to what they had done in Catonsville, the Berrigan brothers, along with other demonstrators, “broke into a General Electric nuclear missile site in Pennsylvania where they doused files in blood and damaged warhead nose cones,” as reported by Al Jazerra. The protestors, including Dan Berrigan, were convicted of a felony charge.

Nonetheless, the anti-nuclear movement never caught on in a major way as the New Left protest of the Vietnam War had managed to do previously. Dan Berrigan and the Left moved on to other issues. In the early 1980s, Berrigan became involved in Central America with the so-called Christian Marxists who combined liberation theology with support for Marxist revolutionaries as exemplified by the Communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. There was hardly a Leftist cause that Dan Berrigan didn’t support during his lifetime..

Among those writing in tribute to the protest activities of Daniel Berrigen in the wake of his death was Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs is most notable for the financial engineering he and his fellow Harvard colleagues engaged in as advisors to the post-Communist government of Boris Yeltsin, which resulted in a chaotic transfer of massive amounts of wealth from the Russian government to a small group of Russian oligarchs. Jeffrey Sachs recently has become a key advisor to Pope Francis, the only Jesuit ever elected Pope, on climate change.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Sachs refers to the Vietnam War as a “moral sin” and praises Berrigan’s actions in protest of it. To Sachs, Dan Berrigan represents a moral compass in an immoral America, which “still has not repented for its sins of arrogance and violence.” Perhaps, I am a little cynical; but where is Jeffrey Sachs’ concern for the boat people who fled from South Vietnam after the North Vietnamese imposed their Communist rule over the South, and what about the Christians who suffer daily for their faith in Vietnam today?

Philip Berrigan, Daniel’s brother, ultimately left the priesthood and married. He preceded Dan in death. Daniel Berrigan remained a Jesuit until the end of his life. He died at Fordham, the Jesuit university in New York City, where he had resided for many years. To his credit, Dan Berrigan was staunchly pro-life.

Fr. Dan Berrigan represented in a dramatic way the transformation of the Jesuit religious order from one which was known as a staunch defender of the Catholic faith (the Jesuits were called the “Soldiers of Christ”) to one in which “social justice” became the central theme of the Jesuit hierarchy. Daniel Berrigan simply took that modern vision of the Order to its logical extreme. Pope John Paul II was not a fan of the direction the Jesuit order had taken, nor of the liberation theologians who sought to fuse Christianity with Communism, or the social justice “warriors” like Dan Berrigan. Ironically, at the end of his life, Daniel Berrigan finally may have found a pope as an ally in his fellow Jesuit Pope Francis who seems to share many of Fr. Berrigan’s views on social justice issues, and even has Jeffrey Sachs as an advisor.

May his soul rest in peace.


Tom Pauken is a graduate of Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, and a Vietnam Veteran. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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