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On The Killing Of Bishops & Nuns

With the calm, understated, diplomatic tone for which he is so widely known (I kid), Esquire's Charlie Pierce picks up on an Eli Lake story in The Daily Beast about how Elliott Abrams is one of Paul Ryan's foreign policy tutors, and observes:"Maybe, during a break at his next foreign-policy briefing, Paul Ryan, devout Catholic, can ask his primary foreign-policy mentor whether the guy's feelings about gunning down archbishops in the middle of mass have evolved over the years."Pierce refers to Abrams' role in the Reagan administration's (criminal) Central American policy---a policy that abetted not only the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, but also the killing of American nuns and lay missonaries, as well as Jesuit priests and their housekeepers.At the very least, it's a reminder that there were, and still are, parts of the world where the Catholic Church is one of the few institutions whose leaders speak and act for justice at the risk of their own lives. (And that there were, and still are, parts of the world where those lives are considered "collateral damage" by American neoconservatives.)

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



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While the assassination of these religious leaders and servants is very distressing, and as you say, still happens today, I think even more disturbing is the situation of plain ordinary Catholics who take their life in their hands just by being Catholic in some parts of the world. Like Iraqi Christians who have really suffered since the American invasion, or the Nigerian worshippers murdered at Mass. I think we fortunate American Catholics should not only come together to support these Catholics directly, but we should pressure our government to exercise its diplomatic and economic clout on their behalf. I know there are a number of charitable efforts, but is there any kind of fledgling campaign here to get our government to act on behalf of these oppressed Christians?

Irene Baldwin's comment is exactly right.

I agree though readers should note that neo-cons are not the only ones behaving in criminal ways, when it comes to foreign policy. President Obama's recent actions with drone strikes makes him look more like Reagan than a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Look here for some background: am a liberal, for sure, but I have been quite disappointed that few people, Catholics or secular liberals, seem to be criticizing Obama for this. The Obama Administration's indiscriminate use of drones is the main reason I refuse to donate to his campaign. While he has my vote (largely because Romney would be far more dangerous in the Oval Office, I think), he will not get my money.

Gabrielle,See this.

Here is a piece dealing with the United States government's current funding of the killers of Christians: is of a piece with the Obama Administration's support for the Libyan resistance, which was dominated by Islamists, and of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt.All that Christians in the Middle East are reaping from Obama's Mideast policy is death, persecution, and exile, just as Bush's Mideast policy led to death, persecution, and exile for the Christians of Iraq.

If that quote is a good example of his use of understatement and diplomacy, Mr. Pierce must be a terror when he takes the gloves off.

I third Irene's motion. Cut out the provincial politics and save real lives.

It has now been moved, seconded and thirded that we should pressure our government to support Catholics whose lives are under threat. The most pressing situation may be in Syria, where Catholics -- who have been safe from harm under Bashar Assad and his Alowite dictatorship -- today are living in fear of what will happen to them as a minority in a post-Assad state, likely run by or under strong influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Stand by our friendly dictator! Will someone call for the vote?

"I am a liberal, for sure, but I have been quite disappointed that few people, Catholics or secular liberals, seem to be criticizing Obama for this."President Carter, apparently not recognizing the irony given the assistance he provided to Indonesia in their genocide in East Timor, actually did criticize the President's war crimes in an essay published in the New York Times around 24 June 2012.

Charles Pierce, the 1970s and 1980s drag queen of note (, could NOT be a biting as this Charles Pierce:

Jim McCrea --Thanks for that eye-opener. So Ryan, based on family experience, is actually *for* government expenditure on infrastructure? So why isn't he supporting Obama? What a hypocrite! 0r maybe not so smart as he's cracked up to be. Does he really think we can't see his inconsistency?He and Mitt seem made for each other. Say one thing one day, say the opposite the next, but always act in one's own self-interest.

Perhaps before Ryan and Abrams have their meeting, Charlie Pierce could have a meeting with Abrams to discuss how he has mastered the art of time travel. Archbishop Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980 and the four missionary women on December 2, 1980, both of which were during the Carter administration. Elliott Abrams did not become Assistant Secretary of State until November 17, 1981. Similarly, the university Jesuits were murdered on November 16, 1989, several months after Reagan, and hence Abrams, had left office. Funny thing, facts.

"Archbishop Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980 and the four missionary women on December 2, 1980, both of which were during the Carter administration. "It is also my recollection that the Archbishop wrote an open letter dated around 17 February 1980 to President Carter begging him not to increase military aid to El Salvador. Notwithstanding that plea and the Archbishop's assassination, President Carter approved a large, I do not recall the amount, military aid package to El Salvador several months after the assassination (January 1981, perhaps? I don't remember).

This seems worth at least a look. (Apologies for hiding the html - trying to fool the filter here that kicks out comments with "too many" links.)Senate Bill 1245: Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2011:link 1link 2link 3link 4link 5

"...President Carter approved a large, I do not recall the amount, military aid package to El Salvador several months after the assassination (January 1981, perhaps? I dont remember)."I checked. President Carter sent Col. Gutierrez and the Junta $5 million on 14 January 1981 and another $5 million on 18 January.

For americans to say we should support asssad as he tortures and murders men women and[muslim] children because -well he's good to chrisitans-is as unamerican and unchristian a position that is being circulated today. To also say that as this virtual holocaust continues-our primary concern is that if the assad regime falls there may be reprisals against the alowite supporters of the regime-therefore let the murderous regime continue murdering its people defies belief.If the dreaded muslim brotherhood boogey man or alquada are helping the people topple this horrific dictatorship -it is our narrative about the muslim brotherhood and al quada that needs amending.Mankind is us now and when people rise up to topple a dictatoship and especially as a year long brutal crackdown insues-we have a moral obligation to support by whatever means necessary the people against this regime. That syria was labeled part of the axis of evl and as the right wingers especially, agitate for war against iran who supports the regime-yet come up with reasons to side with assad against the people[we don't know who these people are- doesn't matter who they are -they're people getting murdered by a police state for rising up against a dictatorship]is truely bizarre. This is complicity with evil at this point!Talk about power!What power this assad has that he has americans siding with him even as we witness the killing of his own people for over a year now! Now that's power!Perhaps when we labeled syria and other dictatorships in the mid east as evil -it was really the people themselves we were talking about. That is how it appears as the people pulled the rug out from under us by rising up against dictators and now we find ourselves siding with the dictator- regarding syria today.

Rose-Ellen, I don't think anyone is saying bolster cruel dictators to protect religious minorities; hopefully that's not our only option. Our religious leaders could work closely with the international relief organizations to figure out a way we can best protect religious minorities, no matter who is in power. Make it a priority the way they made the Fortnight of Freedom a priority and figure a strategy where we could move our own government to act on behalf of these oppressed peoples (or least not add to their problems). I think we should act to protect the religious freedom of all people, but I see nothing wrong with putting some special effort into supporting our own Catholic family elsewhere in the world . If not us, then who?

Right now the issue in syria is that a brutal regime is torturing and murdering its citizens who are rising up to topple it. Right now that reality trumps concern for protection of minorities in a future post assad country.HOW COULD A VIRTUAL HOLOCAUST NOT TRUMP EVERY THING ELSE? Ethically that is the issue today in syria.My religion [catholic]is my religion. People of all and no religions are my family[And today in syria the least of my brethren are those non catholics being murdered by this regime for daring to rise up to topple- a what-50year? dictatorship.]

"Right now the issue in syria is that a brutal regime is torturing and murdering its citizens who are rising up to topple it."Yes, we should support those citizens' struggle for freedom. But what about Iraq? There, we did overthrow a brutal regime that was torturing and murdering; and now several years later, ordinary Iraqis are still suffering greatly. I think we have an obligation to help ALL of those suffering Iraqis, but we should especially keep in mind that the Christian minority there is undergoing special suffering purely because they are Christians. I think as an act of Christian solidarity we should do what we can to prevent any more of them from being murdered because of their faith.

The iraqis never asked to be liberated .And when your calling card is shock and awe then I don't call that liberation but invasion and occupation.That's how the iraqis saw it and when they were able to they kicked us out rather then grant immunity to our soldiers from prosecution for crimes they commit against iraqis. The syrians themselves have risen up after peacefully protesting their tyranical regime. Now they're being murdered en masse by that regime. They need help and we americans especially after claiming we're against dictatorships and invaded iraq to" liberate" them-have an obligation to stop the slaughter. Of course any and all nations do too -if they have the wherewithall. I don't know that christians are suffering more then other iraqis. I do know that we pitted one group against another-as we favored the shias and kurds and christians politically over the sunni population. If there is an imbalance of power today and one group or more groups are disempowering or marginalizing another group[sunnis?] then the civil war is essentially about power -not religious beliefs. Solidarity has to be based on the fact that people are suffering-not on their religious affiliation.This pitting of one religion against another is I fear a trap we ourselves are [again] succumbing too. It disturbs me the way more and more christians [and catholics] talk about their religion in almost tribal ways as opposed to religious beliefs.We're starting to talk more and more like these religious groups of the mid east and else where whose religion has become a culture ,a tribe ,an ethnic group practically.That is the antithesis of" God so loved the WORLD".For me, my catholicism, my christianity ,is my faith which I share with fellow catholics and christians. My solidarity is with whoever is suffering.Yes that includes christians in iraq as a result of the power dynamics and ongoing civil war there today. I can't say however that because I'm christian my lens looking out at conflicts in the world has to first and foremost focus on -how good or bad is it for christians.

Getting back to the original post, the information is incorrect. Reagan (and Abrams) weren't in power when Archbishop Romero and the three nuns (and laywoman Jean Donovan) were murdered in El Salvador.

A couple of thoughts:How was giving military and economic aid to the government of El Salvador to fight leftist rebels (who were receiving arms and supplies from Cuba, which got them from the USSR) any different than the Truman Administration's assistance to the governments of Greece and Turkey to fight communist rebels in the late 1940s?Didn't President Franklin Roosevelt helped establish the precedent of giving assistance to a cruel dictator to check another? After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt sought to extend the Lend-Lease program to the Soviets who were headed by Joseph Stalin. Despite strong opposition from the America First Committee, Father Coughlin, and many religious people, Congress eventually approved Lend-Lease for the Soviets in the fall of 1941. The Lend-Lease was extended less than a decade after the starvation in the Ukraine (which was publicized by British journalists Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge), a few years after the purge trials, Soviet intervention in Spain (which helped kill thousands of priests and nuns), the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland and then Finland. The Soviet Union's anti-religious propaganda and brutal persecution of religion, including the Catholic Church, which began under Lenin continued under Stalin.If U.S. assistance to El Salvador somehow made the U.S. complicit in the murder of Archbishop Romero and other innocent people, did the assistance to Stalin make the U.S. somehow complicit in the regime's murder and persecution of Catholics (Father Walter Ciszek was first imprisoned in the gulag 1941) and others? Is there a single leftist or liberal Democrat today who thinks giving assistance to the USSR was morally wrong or mistake?My point is that if the U.S. can compromise with Stalin to fight Hitler, couldn't it have also compromised with far lesser villains such as Francisco Franco, Salazar, Marcos, Chaing Kai-Shek, Pinochet, and other military dictators in Central and South America during the Cold War for the purpose of fighting Communism (whose adherents murdered over 100 million people during the 20th century alone)?I'm not of the "my country, right or wrong" types. But when is it morally possible to render assistance to the scum of the earth (and, in effect, ignore their human rights abuses and crimes) to fight what is thought to be a greater evil? When should the U.S. compromise, and when should it stand on moral principles?

Mr. Cavalli --It would be interesting to take a poll of the blog to see how many would have allowed Hitler to prevail rather than supply arms to the Soviets. And if it was right to send arms to the Soviets, why wasn't it right to send arms to some other dictatorships?In WWII we chose the preservation of many democracies *and* chose to permit the survival of the Soviets over allowing the dominance of the whole of Europe and northern Asia by the Nazi empire. The choice was between the horrible and the even more horrible. The choice was of a double-effect, a very complex one with truly horrible effect (support of Stalin's military) balanced against two over-riding good ones (the destruction of the Nazi empire and the survival of Europe, we hoped).I sometimes think that the reason the 60's generation rebelled so strongly was because of its contempt for the US government's "getting its hands dirty" cooperating with cruel dictators. The boomers have never understood, apparently, that sometimes such choices were made to avoid projected worse consequences. No doubt some of the US cooperations with dictators were at best unwise (I'm thinking of Viet Nam). But the young of the 60's didn't seem to realize what the moral background of those times were. It was easy for my generation to analogize from the over -running of western Europe by the Nazis and the over-running of eastern Europe by the Communists to the over-running of south-east Asia by the Asian communists (the so-called "domino theory"). The US judgment might have been wrong, but I don't think the principle involved (that sometimes one must cooperate with evil to avoid a worse evil) is necessarily immoral.

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