Pacifist priest lambasts ’empire of violence’

Speaking before a large crowd of mostly nonstudents in the Chapel of the Holy Family Thursday, Jesuit priest the Rev. John Dear issued a call for all people and students at Catholic universities in particular to bring down what he called the "empire of violence" and work for peace.

"The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence, it is nonviolence or nonexistence," Dear said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., whom he described earlier in the speech as a prophet. "Choose nonviolence, as King said, or choose nonexistence."

Of grave concern to Dear was what he described as the U.S. government's militaristic policies.

"I think we live in an empire of violence now," he said, adding that the government's attitude is nursed by a pro-war economy that encourages the government to sell weapons to other countries rather than help the world's poor and sick.

Society in general isn't doing enough to resist the pro-war attitude, Dear said, and as a result is being brought into its fold without much of a fight. Dear said U. S. churches are being subdued by the government into not protesting the war and violence, and so they are allowing their congregations to become complacent.

"As a people, we are addicted to violence," Dear said. "Underneath all this is a spirituality of violence. We're all becoming Pharisees."

"We're quite comfortable in the empire and with violence instead of acting out in nonviolence," Dear continued. "We have a nice, tidy personal relationship with God and maybe our family, and that's good enough (for us)."

He called for people to resist war and practice nonviolence through "active and public" means.

"Nonviolence is not passive, it's active," he said. "You can't say you are for peace in the world unless you are publicly, actively against war. You cannot say you are for justice unless you are publicly, actively against injustice."

College students received extra urging from Dear.

"Forgive everyone who ever hurt you, so you can taste the depths of the peace we seek politically," he said. "Don't be discouraged. Don't despair. Don't give up. There's way too much work to do."

Dear also chided Catholic colleges and universities for not being nonviolent enough. He accused Georgetown University of not being interested in "the reign of God" and alleged that it receives millions every year in Pentagon funds, has recently hired former Secretary of State during the Vietnam-era Henry Kissinger to teach there and offers courses that teach how to use laser-guided weapons systems.

A representative from Georgetown did not return calls seeking verification of the allegations.

Marquette did not escape Dear's criticism.

"If we're going to be serious about honoring Jesuits, we have to get rid of (the Reserve Officer's Training Corps)," Dear said.

In a prespeech interview with the Tribune, Dear said Marquette was committing "a moral sin" by having ROTC on campus.

Calls to Marquette's ROTC program were not returned.

Brigid O'Brien, director of university communication issued a statement on Marquette's participation in the ROTC program:

"While it is not for this university to decide whether and when to send officers into military action, we do believe that we can equip these men and women with certain skills and values that will benefit them in their work and help those people with whom they come in contact," O'Brien said.

"Participation in ROTC or the armed forces complements the Marquette mission in several ways: we strive for excellence, leadership marked by integrity and compassion, exploration of one's life of faith and service to others, especially those on the margins of society," she said.

Dear's speech was well received.

"I think it was wonderful," said Milwaukee resident Peggy Kuehm. "Sometimes people pussyfoot around an answer and he just spoke out."