Church Theatre vs Street Theatre: No Mercy For Anti-War Protestors On Easter

What happened in Chicago at Holy Name Catholic Church on Easter Sunday this year undoubtedly came closer to honoring the Spirit of the Law than any other Easter service in the country.

Cardinal Francis George had barely gotten through the first sentence of his homily, when six members of the street theatre group Catholic School Girls Against the War (GSGATW) stood up, spoke out and broke through the “fourth wall”. The six protestors began their brief action at the start of the politically conservative Cleric’s sermon. But the immediacy and relevance were apparently too much for the six hundred parishioners and their leader. The pronouncement of one million Iraqis dead, along with the reminder, “Thou shalt not kill” was not acceptable during Mass. Congregates jeered. The die-in had just begun when the six young adults were hustled out of the room by security guards, drawing applause from the audience. Bertolt Brecht would have been proud. The religious authorities handed the “criminals” over to the civil authorities.

CSGATW, now known as the “Holy Name Six”, were arrested, charged with felony and battery and held in Cook County Jail until making bail, set at twenty five thousand dollars each. They could be facing up to five years in prison for accidentally dripping fake blood on church carpeting as well as the easter garments of a few nearby parishioners. It appears a message is being sent and these young people are being used as an example. No one dare follow his or her own truth, moral authority and conscience above that of the Church. You simply must take the church as seriously as it takes itself. Do not hold a mirror up to this institution — such is the nature of all empire. They are the faithful patriots, the defenders of all doctrine and the enforcers of social control.

It has been said that these six young people alienated parishioners from their cause as a result of this action. However, I believe that anyone who would change their mind about the immorality of this occupation simply because they resent the action of a few protestors, was already deeply alienated. The fact is that this was a unique moment within the past five years of civil disobedience and peace marches. The institution that makes a religion of obedience to unyielding rules and dogma has now been confronted on its own turf. The deafening silence by those who claim to be actively opposing this war had become unbearable. Why is it a crime to bring the spirit of the Law into the church itself? How better to honor “God”? But democratic values are the antithesis of a patriarchal hierarchy. Open mindedness and freedom of expression are no way to run an efficient empire.

What might have occurred had there actually been someone in that room who understood the message of the man they believed they had come to celebrate? Perhaps they might have spoken out in defense of the six obviously sincere and compassionate souls. They could have offered to engage in dialogue; in a sincere desire to understand what moved them to take so bold an action. They might have chosen not to fear the strangers among them who had come to make statements of peace and compassion and justice, even if their methods made some feel uncomfortable. Although this would have been a break in protocol, it would have done far more to honor Jesus than forcing them out and having them arrested. Is that really so difficult to understand? Jesus taught people to follow what was in their hearts and conscience. But this would mean trusting ourselves and claiming our own authority to act as responsible human beings — a threatening notion for an institution where conformity itself is a basic tenet and obedience an ultimate commandment.

Speaking after the service, Cardinal George told the press, “We should all work for peace, but not by interrupting the worship of God”. This sounds like the kind of irony one would expect to hear on the “Colbert Report”. Apparently, in the parlance of the Church, worshiping God is is synonymous with worshiping it’s own ceremony. It is “God” as betrothed emperor, demanding that homage be paid in the form of sanctimonious ritual. Forget compassion and acts of conscience — these are not primary directives. Hypocrisy is a very specific form of dissonance, and this entire event is riddled with it. The Chicago Archdiocese called this action ‘sacrilegious’. Translated, this means it was real and unexpected and relevant — thus interfering with the predictable functioning of the institution.

Adherence to the letter of the law has clearly prevailed here. This is the real “sacrilege”. Silence is compliance and the Holy Name Six were saying “No more”! By calling these protestors “violent” and making them out to be criminals, this church has made a mockery of Jesus on Easter. No rules that come from this institution may be broken, regardless of the circumstances or the nobility of the cause. Civil disobedience is acceptable only when it poses no threat to church authority because they believe it to be equivalent to Divine authority.

There are on-line petitions calling for the Chicago Archdiocese to drop the charges. But I am not too optimistic. That would be what Jesus would do.

Rita Corriel is a psychologist, writer, and activist living in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Rita, or visit Rita's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rich Griffin said on April 14th, 2008 at 5:26am #

    The catholic church won’t tolerate this because it cuts into their efforts at brainwashing. We are supposed to just sit and recite the nonsense they feed us as “beliefs” without question and without interruption!! We are supposed to stay outside and protest, in the cold, not in a warm church! We are supposed to obey. All religion is delusional and almost always ancestral. It has no real meaning; it’s just a place for solace & for keeping people from thinking for themselves. For if they did, there would be a revolution!!

  2. Michael Hureaux said on April 14th, 2008 at 7:04am #

    In the words of Thoreau, following his written plea for John Brown after the raid on Harper’s Ferry, which lauded Brown’s effort to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”:

    “You don’t even know your own gospel when you hear it.”

  3. Michael Kenny said on April 14th, 2008 at 8:42am #

    I don’t think I could imagine a better example of the ideological bankruptcy of the US anti-war movement and, indeed, of the American “left”, than attacking the Catholic Church! Since the last two Popes have condemned the Iraq war, one wonders what these people were actually protesting against! In so far as they were condemning the war, they were supporting the position of the Church, not opposing it! What utter nonsense! Indeed, I am inclined to suspect a false flag operation by people who may well not even have been Catholic. A trap into which naive leftists (like Ms Corriel) were intended to fall!

    Ms Corriel is clearly not a Catholic (she uses the wrong terminology!) and clearly does not understand the workings of the Catholic Church, but she is not far wrong when she says “No one dare[s] follow his or her own truth, moral authority and conscience above that of the Church”. Moral authority is vested in the Pope and all authority flows from him. That’s the way the Catholic Church works and those who find that unacceptable don’t belong to the Catholic Church!

    Thus, Catholics do not make public attacks on the Church, the Pope, his bishops, the religious orders or Catholic institutions. Catholics do not interrupt the Mass or the celebrant’s sermon, particularly on Easter Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Catholic calendar. Catholics do not desecrate a church by using it as a theatre.

    Something that scandalises Catholics worldwide is that there is a small element of loud-mouthed dissidents in the Church in the US who have sought to hijack the Church and use it essentially in the service of the neocon/Israel Lobby ideology. These people defy the authority of the Pope and the bishops he has appointed and are thus out of line with the basic premise of the Church. Since both John Paul and Benedict have condemned the Iraq war, any US Catholics who support it are refusing to follow the moral guidance of the Pope. As such, they (and not those who oppose the war) are in rebellion against the Pope’a suthority and the magesterium of the Church.

    I would love to know what organsiations these “Catholic school girls” really belong to. And has it ever dawned on Ms Corriel that the reason why Cardinal George is throwing the book at these people is that he knows something we don’t, namely, that the “protestants”, so to speak, are either not Catholics at all or dissidents of the kind I’ve described above?

  4. Rich Griffin said on April 14th, 2008 at 12:37pm #

    Your pro-catholic church diatribe sickens me!! I was raised catholic; they tried all of their brainwashing techniques and attempted to mold me into a heterosexist man (as it tries to create heterosexist women to be compliant to the male hieraarcy). The catholic church deserves ZERO respect! The homophobia, anti-women, hierarchal nonsense – yes, they should be attacked! Simply because we agree on war & the death penalty does not mean that we shouldn’t attack the catholic church! (btw, the catholic church has been complicit in many many wars and has killed alot of people in its history).

  5. Eric Patton said on April 14th, 2008 at 12:56pm #

    Michael Kenny wrote:
    > I would love to know what organsiations these “Catholic school
    > girls” really belong to.

    Al-Qaida, obviously.

    If Jesus came back, he’d be crucified again, and by the same people.

  6. Alastair McGowan said on April 14th, 2008 at 2:23pm #

    Michael Kenny’s argument strikes me as a strong hypothesis. While I have no understanding of the Catholic Church I can see that it probably is a deeply hierarchical institution. Hence if the Pope morally objects to the war then it is plausible that Catholics who accept his authority are also against the war. So what is the point of activists making such a statement? Have they made a mistake – naive enough to target the wrong kind of Christian church – as an activist I would probably have made such an error since I know little about the different kinds of christian churches. If you’re on the outside the church is all the same: it looks hierarchical and patriarchical and thus it must be pro-war. Perhaps these activists simply made a serious mistake of assumptions?

  7. mary said on April 14th, 2008 at 3:30pm #

    The Christ that the Catholic Church’s worship would surely be weeping if he were on earth now and saw what inhuman and wicked acts were being perpetrated on innocent people and their countries in the name of democracy and freedom. Those last two concepts died many moons ago.

    Ms Corriel omitted to say that this Cardinal broke bread with Bush and Mayor Daley in January which surely proves the point that he sees nothing wrong with a warmonger and a killer.

    In the UK we have had the other warmonger Blair standing in a pulpit at Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic cathedral in London, and with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in the UK, in attendance, lecturing us on ‘Faith and Globalization’. Hypocrite. Blair should be standing in a dock at the International Court at the Hague along with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kristol and the others of the evil mob who created the New World Order, AIPAC and PNAC. They have real blood on their hands unlike the six young people here.

    They were protesting NON VIOLENTLY against the Iraq war, and the occupation. They have been arrested, charged and bailed (a large amount of $25,000 each) and await trial with a maximum of 5 years. The Cardinal shows no mercy. Their crime was saying ‘Thou shalt not kill’. What does he believe?

    Video of the protest

    Article about the protest

  8. Annie said on April 14th, 2008 at 4:12pm #

    Please don’t lump all Christians together as right-wing, war-loving dissident-haters, we are not all the same! However, church is not the place for a political agenda, if the Holy Name Six present their agenda in church then it’s okay for folks like Pat Robertson to present his agenda to his congregation, and for me, that’s not appropriate. I recently read a bumper-sticker that said, “God is not a Republican…or a Democrat.” The Christian church should be a place for people to hear and meditate on the word of God so that they may make a wise decision about what and whom to support. That said, I do admire the fact that the girls were willing to take a stand for what they believe; apathy kills everything good, including the Church.

  9. ron said on April 14th, 2008 at 5:27pm #

    as a person who was raised catholic, served as an altar boy and seriously considered becoming a priest until certain hypocrisies became too much for me to ignore, i sincerely believe (from the essence of what i learned from the nuns and priests) that Jesus would have more likely been one of the Holy Name Six than he would have been Cardinal George. The current church and its fathers are the new Pharisees. Do people think Jesus made the church leaders of his time happy when he threw the moneylenders out of the temple?

  10. hp said on April 14th, 2008 at 7:52pm #

    ‘Archbishop: A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior of that attained by Christ.’

  11. eileen fleming said on April 14th, 2008 at 8:48pm #

    2,000 years ago The Cross had NO symbolic religious meaning.

    When Jesus said: “Pick up your cross and follow me,” everyone understood he was issuing a POLITICAL statement, for the main roads in Jerusalem were lined with crucified agitators, rebels, dissidents and any others who disturbed the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces.

    Jesus was never a Christian, that term was even coined until the days of Paul, about 3 decades after Jesus walked the earth a man.

    Jesus was a social justice, radical revolutionary Palestinian devout Jewish road warrior who rose up and challenged the JOB SECURITY of the Temple authorities by teaching the people they did NOT need to pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God; for God already LOVED them just as they were:

    Sinners, poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman Military Occupation.

    What got Jesus crucified was disturbing the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces of his time, by teaching the subversive concept that Caesar only had power because God allowed it and that God preferred the humble sinner, the poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman Occupation above the elite and arrogant.

    What we need today are more dissidents, rebels and agitators like the GSGATW!

    Thanks for the report Rita!

    From a recovered Roman Catholic and 21st Century Christian of The Beatitudes

    The early followers and lovers of Jesus were called members of THE WAY-being THE WAY he taught one should be; Nonviolent, a Peacemaker and one who did the will of the Father .

    “What does God require? He has told you o’man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” -Micah 6:8

    Jesus remained NONVIOLENT and forgiving even while being mocked, whipped and nailed to a cross and he promised that it is the Peacemakers who are the children of God, not the peace-talkers.

  12. Michael Kenny said on April 15th, 2008 at 8:23am #

    I have done some investigating into this and it looks more and more like a fraud designed to bamboozle people into believing that the Catholic Church supports Bush’s war.
    – Words not spoken: the group consisted of three men and three women. Catholic Schoolgirls? Were the men in drag? No claim is made anywhere that any of them are Catholics or that they are enrolled in any Catholic school. Two have now been bailed and, since their names (which don’t sound the slightest bit Catholic, by the way!) have been made public, we can assume that they are not minors, and from that we can deduce that they are not “schoolchildren” either!
    – Dumb and dumber: even the dumbest kid in Catholic school knows that two Popes have denounced the Iraq war. (They’ll have been taught it in religion class!) Even the dumbest kid knows that if you desecrate the Mass, you’ll be kicked out of Catholic school. These people are sophisticated enough to do theatre and have a remarkable level of political consciousness for the “schoolgirls” they’re supposed to be. Why would they be so dumb as to throw away their education by making a sacrilegious protest against something they know full well the Church does not support and against which they could easily have protested on the public street? Why did they not, for example, simply hand out leaflets to arriving massgoers reminding them of the Popes’ condemnations and urging them to follow that moral guidance? That’s what Catholics are taught to do, and the more conservative they are, the more likely they are to do it automatically! Something stinks here, my dear brethern, and it’s not incense!
    – Unholy fathers: if these kids are enrolled in Catholic schools, their parents are probably pious, and fairly conservative, Catholics who have been paying serious bucks to give their offspring a Catholic education. Logically, they should now be horrified and hopping mad! They should be falling over themselves to apologise to Cardinal George, and offering to pay for the (very minor!) damage, if for no reason other than the hope of avoiding expulsion from the school on which they have spent so much money. But, hark! Not a peep out of them!
    – My gee, my gosh, my Google: look at the media hype! The Church always wants to sweep such things under the carpet (that was the mistake they made with the paedophile priests!), so whoever is hyping this has considerable influence in the mainstream media, is not Catholic and wants to smear the Catholic Church on the eve of Pope Benedict’s arrival in the US. Any guesses? By the way, I was right about Ms Corriel’s not being Catholic. When you google her, you immediately discover that she’s Jewish. I wonder what her reaction would be if Cardinal George interfered in the Jewish religion.

  13. hp said on April 15th, 2008 at 10:58am #

    ‘The usual suspects.’

  14. cjm said on April 15th, 2008 at 12:58pm #

    The cardinal had met with George Bush and publicly supported him. That is why the protest occurred. If it is as Michael Kenny says then the Cardinal has in conflict with the pope’s anti Iraq war statement and should be admonished and directed to follow Church doctrine and refrain from his public support of bush policies.
    The event on Easter is similar to what would happen if a Jew entered the synagogue on Passover and turned over tables shouting “My house is a house of prayer you have made it a den of thieves”. The reaction might be to turn him over to the state to execute him.

  15. mary said on April 16th, 2008 at 12:05am #

    What has Michael Kenny, defender of the faith, got to say about the scandal of paedophilia and child abuse by Catholic priests in America. That to my mind is one of the worst crimes in the book, worse even than rape. The child is scarred for life and will probably have relationship difficulties for ever. How can they ever trust again? As I heard on BBC radio last night in an interview with David Clohessy of SNAP, the Catholic church has paid out $2billion to settle claims and five Dioceses are sheltering behind bankruptcy protection to protect their assets and to stave off lawsuits. The Pope now visiting America, and greeted by its President, the one with the bloodied hands, says that he and the Church are suffering because of this and cannot believe his priests carried out these crimes. Well they did and they ARE crimes unlike a little vocal protest in a Cathedral and smearing a bit of fake blood on themselves. Wickedness indeed. I hope the priests concerned rot in their own hells and that Cardinal George thinks long and hard.

  16. mary said on April 16th, 2008 at 1:35am #

    I must correct an ambiguity I created. I was not implying in any way that Cardinal George was involved in the child abuse scandal but that he should think long and hard about the charges against the protesters as to whether or not he should withdraw them.