10 April 2003
Nuns' case calls for mercy

Denver Post

Three Roman Catholic nuns were justifiably convicted this week of obstructing the national defense and damaging government property.

But is it really necessary to imprison them for up to 30 years? That's the maximum sentence U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn can issue under sentencing guidelines. He will sentence the women July 25.

Certainly the U.S. government has better uses for prison cells than housing three nuns who were seeking to make a statement about war, not terrorize their countrymen.

Prisons and jails are overcrowded. Stuffing the felonious nuns into a federal prison, at taxpayer expense, does little good.

The nuns arrived at the N-8 Minuteman III missile silo northeast of Greeley last October - exactly one year after the United States and its allies launched an attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The date was symbolic.

They cut through two gate chains and a fence to - again, symbolically - tap hammers on the old railroad tracks used to transport the missile. They then sprayed their own blood in the shape of six crosses onto the 110-ton concrete silo dome.

The nuns began to sing and pray, no doubt waiting for someone to show up and arrest them. After all, you can't make a real statement these days unless you're arrested.

Military personnel arrived an hour - that's 60 minutes - after an alarm went off. (That's one of the more troubling revelations in this case. What if real terrorists had gained entry to the site?)

The officers pointed guns at the nuns. A Humvee crashed through a fence when the women didn't obey an officer's orders.

While the protest was symbolic, the nuns' actions were unlawful. That's not in dispute.

"In the United States, you have the right to protest government policy in a variety of ways," U.S. Attorney John Suthers said after the guilty verdict was delivered by a federal jury.

"But if you violate the laws, you'll face the consequences. We will continue to prosecute all acts of civil disobedience."

As well he should.

But we hope Judge Blackburn shows some leniency when sentencing the three. They've already served six months in jail, which one described as "sacred time, but difficult sacred time."

That should be enough. Others have been sentenced to less for doing worse.

The nuns, for their part, aren't expecting leniency. And if it's not granted, it seems they're comfortable with whatever final verdict they ultimately draw.

"We will not be found guilty under God's law," Sister Carol Gilbert shouted to the jury.

In a nation founded in large part on the principle of separation of church and state, no zealot is entitled to substitute her or his personal interpretation of "God's law," for the rule of law is derived from elected representative bodies. But secular law, like divine law, is sometimes best tempered with mercy.

Letter to the Editor:

The editorial (4-10) calling for mercy in the case of the Nuns who symbolically disarmed just one of Colorado's 49 city killer nuclear missiles misses the point by a mile.  The Post seems to be wearing the same kind of blinders that the judge and prosecutor wore throughout the trial.  While America invoked the international law prohibiting "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMD's) in a war which dismembered the country of Iraq, no such standard can be applied to the U.S. stash of WMD's.  They are just academic, properly discussed as a college debate team topic perhaps but not real in any other sense.  The self serving avoidance of logic in examining this subject is astounding.  The Sisters sought and seek justice and truth,  not mercy.

Bill Sulzman
P.O. Box 915
Colorado Springs, CO 80901
Ph 719 389 0644

( Other reports on 3 ploughshares nuns here )

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