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Sheehan’s actions consistent with Catholic values

Michael Kelley | Monday, April 16, 2007

I was disappointed to read Sarah Vabulas’ letter in last Friday’s Observer (“Sheehan not in line with College mission”), in which she criticized the decision by Saint Mary’s to invite Cindy Sheehan to speak. Vabulas gives two reasons for her disapproval: (a) that Sheehan “misrepresent[s] the war through false facts while casting unwarranted aspersions upon those who fundamentally disagree with her,” and (b) that Sheehan has engaged in acts of civil disobedience to further her cause.

Vabulas offers no support for her claim that Sheehan’s criticism is based on false facts. Sheehan has questioned the administration’s motives for invading Iraq, criticized its management of the war and expressed frustration with the overall leadership of President Bush. The facts are that the administration’s case for war was wrought with misinformation and deception, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq, countless strategic and administrative errors have been made and corruption and scandal plagued the administration every step of the way – from Halliburton no-bid contracts to Abu Ghraib. Sheehan’s criticism is especially relevant today, as the sectarian violence continues unabated and the futility of the war has become apparent even to members of the President’s own party.

Although she is at times abrasive in her rhetoric, Sheehan’s objections are indeed warranted, especially coming from the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq. Turning to Vabulas’s second reason – that the avenues of protest utilized are “not valued in the [Saint Mary’s] mission.” This argument indicates an unawareness of Catholic values and a disregard for the role that civil disobedience has played throughout human history in helping to eradicate injustice and promote peace.

Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day encouraged Catholics “to fill the jails with nonviolent resistance to war.” Jacques Maritain wrote, “The deep trend toward emancipation which is at work in that history requires breaking of the law as a perpetual and necessary condition of progress.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and sent to jail 29 times for acts of civil disobedience in his effort to secure civil rights for all Americans. Gandhi engaged in civil disobedience multiple times in his fight for India’s independence.

The methods advocated by these and other heroic men and women are not “disrespectful” or “despicable.” They are courageous and morally justified. Neither Cindy Sheehan’s methods nor the cause for which she fights is contrary to the mission of a Catholic institution like Saint Mary’s. Pope John Paul II has said, “When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and unite society.” This is exactly what Sheehan has done, however unpleasant it may be for some people to hear.

Michael Kelley


St. Edwards Hall

April 15