Volume > Issue > Daniel Berrigan, Pro-lifer

Daniel Berrigan, Pro-lifer


By Stephen Settle | October 1984
Stephen Settle is Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in Milwaukee.

A friend of mine, a woman active in both the peace and pro-life movements, was accosted by an agitated feminista at a local disarmament gather­ing, who irately informed her, “We’re seriously re­evaluating Father Berrigan as a spokesperson for the peace movement.” Daniel Berrigan’s offense? A forceful, characteristically radical condemnation of America’s ever-zealous abortion industry.

Indeed, the radical’s radical, Daniel Berrigan, S.J., teeters on the verge of excommunication not from Holy Church, but from certain quarters who thought they knew him and might forever claim him as their own creation. But for most of us who have followed Berrigan through the years — not always as disciples; in fact, often at sharp odds with the man — there is little cause for amazement at this latest “apostasy.” Strange though it may seem to some (and disturbing as it is to others), I find nothing surprising in Berrigan’s opposition to abortion. On the contrary, I have gradually come to appreciate this man, for whom dissent from par­ty line has always been his stock- in-trade. Fallible as any of us, Berrigan nonetheless remains a radical and a Christian who takes his calling seriously.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the very name Berrigan was synonymous with controversy, conflict, unrest. The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Night Flight to Hanoi, Daniel’s pursuit and eventu­al capture by the FBI: what Georges Bernanos had earlier decried as “a stupendously rapid increase in the number of obedient, docile men” was tempo­rarily belied in the persons and exploits of the brothers Berrigan. Their aggressive proselytism left little room for the lukewarm response. One either loved Philip and Dan or hated them. Their words and actions were perceived as either abhorrent or challenging, those of dangerous renegades or au­thentic testimony to the New Testament mandate to transform ourselves and the world.

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