News & Politics

Radical Hack Poet War Protester Daniel Berrigan Dead at 94

(AP Photo/William A. Smith)

Maybe he’ll stop complaining about America now.

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in New York City. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by Jesuits. Father Berrigan died at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.

This love letter obituary is embarrassing even for the New York Times. The forty eight million or so words paint a picture of a man of God who was motivated by the Bible to preach peace. Like all ’60s radicals, he was just motivated by a hatred of America, which is why one of his last public appearances was with the rapists and druggies at the Occupy gathering in Zuccotti Park.

There is nothing wrong with a priest being fundamentally opposed to war or preaching peace — many do. What they don’t do is foment civil unrest in the name of peace like Berrigan was fond of doing. He was constantly at odds with civil and Church authorities; after a while it felt like he was more interested in the trouble-making process (and his celebrity status) than in results.

Thomas Merton, the famous American Cistercian monk and author, was very much opposed to war as well, and even he was rather quickly put off by Berrigan’s approach.

Daniel Berrigan was only good at one thing: being a frothing, America-hating 1960s radical.

That’s why the New York Times still loves him after all these years.