The pacifist priest and the bomber bishop

8.3  Gods of Metal, 1988, Platte, Boylan, Morlan, Gilbert,   Cordaro Andrews AFB, NCR

Rosalie Riegle collated amazing stories  of nonviolent resisters to war. (Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace Cascade Books, 2013)

One chapter was given over to the life of midwestern priest Larry Morian, a graduate of St Ambrose seminary in Davenport, Iowa. Pictured in middle above.

Yes, Virginia at one time there were actually priests like Morian coming out of American seminaries. That was then and this is now. And Morian has just died. Riegle writes about him in chapter 8 of her book. What strikes you about Morian’s life is his ebullience and great humour.

Riegle writes:

I met diocesan priest Fr. Larry Morlan in the winter of 2005 while he was on sabbatical and living in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. At the time of the interview, I felt a strong connection to him but then we lost contact for several years.  I finally spoke with him by phone in April of 2012; a paraphrase from this conversation concludes his interview .

Morian speaks of his conservative background and his “bomber” bishop

1980 started me off. Draft registration. I can see myself still in my parents’ living room on a Saturday morning. It was the first time I’d really sat down and read the Gospels, and when I came to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus just. . . He felt real. So no draft registration for me! Now you gotta’ know that all my family were Republicans and when I was a kid I was hanging out campaign literature for Nixon on the doorknobs of unsuspecting Midwesterners.

Anyway, I went to my spiritual director and he introduced me to Gandhi, and it just so lined up with the Gospel, you know, that you do a good thing with complete disregard of the consequences. Because the good thing has a value and energy that resonates in the universe–in the world, in your soul. You do it because it’s good and then let it go.

Then my director also had the great good sense to suggest that I go Davenport to hear this couple speak. It’s Brian [Terrell] and Betsy [Keenan], and they’re talking about Dorothy Day. “Wow! Why have I not heard of this woman before?”

That year—1980—was something else! Romero was killed, the Maryknoll women were killed, Reagan came in, and nuclear war’s right over our shoulder, you know. So I didn’t register for the draft, along with some other men, and my parents kicked me out of the house and I lived in my car for the whole summer and did some resistance over at the Rock Island Arsenal.

Then the next fall, I’m sitting in my seminary dorm room, and I see this photograph—no article, just a photograph—with a little caption about these priests who had hammered on a nuclear weapon. I thought, “Swords into plowshares. It’s perfect! If you want to organize your life around Jesus, can you imagine a better symbol to organize yourself around?” Boy, I was in trouble then! [Laughs.]

So then I’m in St. Ambrose seminary, and I become a really manic organizer. In my last year there, I organized hospitality for some Buddhists and others who were walking from California to New York for a UN Conference on Disarmament. They give this big presentation about nonviolence in the chapel, and my Bishop is there—Ed O’Rourke. Afterwards, he takes all of us seminarians out for coffee and pie, and I asked him what he thought about the presentation.

I can remember it word for word. He said, “These people don’t realize they’re pressing the free world will to commit the greatest sin of social injustice possible, the sin of unilateral disarmament.” From then on, it was a rant. He just went on and on and. He was monopolizing the whole conversation, but finally I got in: “Bishop, can you imagine Jesus pressing a button that would indiscriminately wipe out civilians?

Yes!” he says. “In the name of freedom, of course He would.”

So. I took a year’s leave of absence after I graduated, which turned out to be ten years, most of which was in jail or prison for the first of the two Plowshares actions and other resistance.

My first jail sentence was in 1983. We came out [to Washington, D.C.] for the Holy Innocents Retreat. People were going to do a theater piece, early in the morning when the workers were coming into the Pentagon. I was to be a spray painter, painting “Herod” and “Reagan” on the pillars at the river entrance. Phil said we were just stage hands, providing the scenery. “The actors will take the bust, so don’t worry!”


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