Imprisoned war resister rooted in Catholic faith

A photo of Ben Salmon from his case file at St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. (National Archives and Records Administration)

In less than one year, we will observe the 100th anniversary of the United States’ decision to enter the Great War, later referred to as World War I. Our government leaders said that it would be the “war to end all wars.” To Catholic church leaders, it was a “just war.” Few Catholics had the courage to dispute this claim.

Ben Salmon, a devout Catholic of Denver, did. Salmon, weakened in body by years of physical punishment in U.S. federal prisons, left behind four children. His only still-living child is outspoken in defense of her father, whom she hardly knew. She was 7 when he died.

Maryknoll Sr. Elizabeth Salmon, 91, lives at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York. She has had a vibrant, joyous life, including fond memories of her dad. Her father refused to cooperate in any way with the killing machine of war. He was known as an absolutist by some, a slacker by most.

Sr. Elizabeth was born Geraldine Salmon. As a young woman, she had only a hint that her father was a famous person during the Great War of 1914-18. When she was a teenager in a Denver Catholic school in 1940, a friend slipped her a copy of the Catholic Worker. Her classmate pointed to a photo and story about Ben Salmon. Geraldine had only a few seconds to scan the article when a sister took it from her and refused to give it back. 

At home, Geraldine asked her mother about the article and was told that all that was in the past and not to be concerned with any of it. In retrospect, Sr. Elizabeth believes her mother was protecting her from those upset with her father’s refusal to support the U.S. government.


In high school, Geraldine played several musical instruments. In her first year of college, she was asked to play in Joy Calder’s All Girls Band. Geraldine and her sister, Margaret, soon were on the road, doing gigs in cities around the United States and eventually with the USO, playing for troops in World War II. They even sat in with Tommy Dorsey and his band.

After the war, the USO tour booked the All Girls Band around Asia — Japan, China, Philippines and Korea. In Korea in 1948, Geraldine found she wanted more in life. She had met Maryknoll sisters in Japan and was so impressed, she decided to join the order.

In 1952, after professing her vows, Elizabeth went to lower Manhattan, N.Y., to try to find the article about her father at the Catholic Worker House. She asked a person at the desk if a copy of the Catholic Worker newspaper with a 1940 story about Ben Salmon was available. She sat, spellbound, reading about her father. She was amazed and proud of him. She is still proud, but perplexed. Why did she not get the true story?

Sr. Elizabeth learned that her father had refused to cooperate with the U.S. government when he was given a questionnaire to determine his draft status for induction into the Army in 1917. Salmon opposed the war as immoral, as an abuse of political power, and he firmly opposed the Catholic-held theory of just warThe war was not in conformity with his belief in the nonviolent Christ. Salmon saw no morality or justice in killing — only power and greed.

Salmon told the media and the government, “The Germans are my brothers. I will not train to kill them.” He was arrested, tried in a military court and convicted of treason, even though he was not in the military. Sentenced first to death and then to a reduced sentence of 25 years of hard labor, Salmon was forced to leave his wife and widowed mother in Denver. 

The front-page story of The Denver Post on May 20, 1918, read: “Salmon refuses to leave in draft.” On the same page is a story noting: “Cheering crowds bid farewell to 437 men in draft.”

Other editions of The Denver Post referred to Salmon as “a man with a yellow streak down his spine as broad as a country highway.” The Denver Knights of Columbus ejected him as one of their members.

Salmon was sent to seven different federal prisons during his journey of mistreatment. Often paraded in chains and kept in tight solitary confinement quarters, including over a sewer with crawling rats, he refused to cave in to offers for military jobs. His physical condition deteriorated as he went on a hunger strike to protest his conditions. For 135 days, prison staff shoved a pipe down his throat, pouring in liquids to keep him alive. The military feared bad publicity and did not want him to die.

In prison, he asked for a priest and confession. He was refused. He asked for Communion and was refused. He was a traitor to his country and did not deserve the sacraments.

Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, the most esteemed Catholic leader of the time, encouraged Catholic young men to take up arms and fight the enemies in Europe. New York Cardinal John Farley said in 1918, “Criticism of the government irritates me. I consider it little short of treason. … Every citizen of this nation, no matter what his private opinion, or his political leanings, should support the president and his advisers to the limit of his ability.”

World War I ended Nov. 11, 1918. By 1920, Salmon was in a Fort Douglas, Utah, federal prison. From prison, he wrote a letter to Newton Baker, U.S. secretary of war.  “I have been illegally imprisoned because I refused to kill or help to kill,” Salmon wrote. “Because I am opposed to militarism — wholesale murder — you have tortured me in diverse ways for twenty-six months. … I have missed my meals for four days, and I will continue to starve until released by a discharge from prison or by death.”

Salmon went on to lecture Baker that the war had produced “17,000 new millionaires in America, but these citizens suffered the influx of gold on behalf of the dear soldiers who were being paid $50 a month to spill their blood on foreign soil.” 

He ended his letter: “My life, my family, everything is now in the hands of God. His will be done.”

The government decided Salmon’s determination to follow his faith, mind and heart to not cooperate with his government was a sign of mental illness. Catholics did not oppose war once war was declared. Salmon was considered insane. 

He was transported by train (with four guards alongside his frail body) from Utah to Washington, D.C., and placed in a Catholic hospital for the insane, St. Elizabeths.

However, life at St. Elizabeths was not harsh. Salmon requested and received a typewriter. He wrote his story in 260 single-space pages. 

In 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. Through the work of the ACLU and Fr. John Ryan, a professor at The Catholic University of America, the secretary of war was pressured to release Salmon. On Thanksgiving Day, 1920, he was freed.

In 1964, Gordon Zahn informed the world of the courage and faith of Austrian war resister Franz Jägerstätter in the book In Solitary Witness. Jägerstätter, executed by the Nazis in 1943, had striking similarities to Salmon. Jägerstätter opposed the Nazi authorities who had overtaken Austria in World War II. He was considered a coward and traitor by his fellow citizens. Yet, Pope Benedict XVI put Jägerstätter on the track to sainthood when he approved his beatification in 2007.

One of Zahn’s students at Boston University so admired the courage of Jägerstätter that he asked if there were similar stories in the United States. Zahn told his student, Torin Finney, to research Salmon. Finney’s research became the book Unsung Hero of the Great War: The Life and Witness of Ben Salmon (Paulist Press 1989). 

Sr. Elizabeth believes her father may have had some influence in the recent discussion of just war at the Vatican (NCR, May 6-19).

“My father knew the truth of the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount,” she said. “My father believed and was willing to die for his belief that no war is just. He knew the lie of war had devoured our culture, including Christianity, during World War I. What would my father say about our endless wars? Would he say all this killing is just? What would he say about the billionaires who continue to reap blood money from weapons-making?

My father was a brave and good person. I only wish he lived longer for me to really get to know him. I believe he’s a saint.” 

A movement is developing in the Denver archdiocese to promote Salmon for beatification. Theologian Michael Baxter, a professor at Regis University; Fr. Tom McCormick; and a number of other Denver Catholics are supporting the call for beatification.

[Jack Gilroy’s plays and novels focus on young men and women who resist war. You can read more at]

Ben Salmon…war resister…written by Mike Fiala from Cleveland Catholic Worker

ben salmon 2

Wednesday Feb 14 is Ash Wednesday, but the next day Feb 15 is the anniversary of the death of Ben Salmon, World War I Catholic War Resister & Martyr.

I met Ben’s daughter, Maryknoll Sister Elizabeth Salmon, in 2007, when i was at a workshop w Ched Myers in 2007 at Maryknoll.

I was talking w Sr. Elisabeth, who was attending the workshop, about herself and then my involvement in the Cleveland Catholic Worker, and our work against war-making. Sr Elisabeth then mentioned that she was the daughter of Ben Salmon and his life.

I knew of Ben Salmon through various sources, especially All Saints book by Richard Ellsberg. We talked further and she told me how much her father’s story was suppressed in her own family, because of the ostracism that the family had experienced due to her father’s witness.

I told her then that her father, Ben Salmon, was a powerful witness to many of us. And that his sufferings and death (and his family’s sufferings) spoke to us from beyond death into an eternal witness.

Ben Salmon died in 1932 at age 42, having suffered for many years from the beatings and affliction during his imprisonment.  He had originally been sentenced to death for his refusal to participate in WWI, due to his beliefs as a Catholic and follower of Jesus’ teachings.

Read selected stories from Ben Salmon himself and as well others. Mike by Ben Salmon himself

“I have been illegally imprisoned because I refused to kill or help to kill”

Ben Salmon, U.S. War Prisoner

                                                                                                      U.S. War Prison
Fort Douglas, Utah
July 17, 1920

Hon. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:
Major William 11. Gooaale, Commandant, U. S. War Prison, Port Douglas;
Captain Fred Walters, Executive Officer ,   U.S. War Prison, Port Douglas.


Far more than two years I have been illegally imprisoned because I refused to kill or help to kill. I will not at this time, however, mention legal details. Rather I will touch upon the moral phase.

First of all, I wish to inform you that I am on a hunger strike for liberty or death. I have already conveyed this information to Captain Walters verbally, with the request that he transmit the facts to each of the others addressed.

Because I am opposed to militarism — wholesale murder — you have tortured me in divers ways for twenty six months, and you now have me in the prison guard house, an unhealthful abode of solitude where one keenly feels the want of fresh air and sunshine. I have missed my meals for four days, and I will continue to starve until released by a discharge from prison or by death.

You have already indirectly murdered one man in this guard house. Last Christmas morning, prisoner Hanf’s dead body was cut down from the pole beside which I am sleeping. Hanf was demented, he threatened to hang himself. He was consigned to this barred den of solitude, and a certain officer said: “Let him hang himself.” And he did.
I am not demented, but I tell you that unless you relieve me from the assistance that my imprisonment gives to militarism, you will thereby cause my death from starvation, for I cannot honestly continue to support Mars as I have in the past, since I now fully realize that even the tiny bit of assistance that I was rendering in the way of accepting your food, was too much.

America is now not at war, which makes it more sinful than ever to maintain a wholesale killing machine. You are extending the scope and efficiency of the killing machine as a preparation against war, yet there is not an instance in the world’s history where military preparation against war resulted in peace. War is the inevitable sequence of military preparation. “As you sow, so shall you reap,” said our Lord Jesus Christ. And the greater the military preparation against war, the greater the sequential bloodshed.
Eventualities of the “War for Democracy” vindicate the Conscientious Objectors. The “War to crush Militarism” was won, but this monster is enthroned more securely than ever. America’s army is now approximately three times its pre-war size, and while only 4,000 officers were feeding at the public crib in 1916, there are now more than 15,000 Americans thus disserving humanity. The “War to end War” was won almost two years ago, but today war is raging fiercely upon a considerable portion of the earth’s surface, and other armed conflicts of an appalling magnitude are in process of incubation. The “War to establish Freedom For All Forever” was won, yet subject nations are more subject than ever. Super-militarism has moved its castle from Berlin to London, and since confiscating more than million square miles of new territory to prove that he fought for Democracy, our good friend Johnny Bull now proves his love for subject peoples by coercing them with the mailed fist, in Ireland alone, England is maintaining an army equal in numbers to that of the entire United States army, Of course England is doing this for Freedom’s Sake.

The “War for Democracy” produced 17,000 new millionaires in America, but these good citizens suffered this influx of gold all on behald of the dear soldiers who were being paid $50 a month for spilling their blood on foreign soil.

Gentlemen, the C.0. stand is practical as well as Christian. Why not help us in place of persecuting us?

Christ’s doctrine “overcome evil with good” is the most effective solvent for individual and societary ills that has ever been formulated. It is a practical policy, because Christ is God, and God is the supreme personification of practicality.

My hunger strike is not a negative program, but a positive appeal to humanity that they substitute Love for Force. If I succumb in this attempt to hold myself aloof from Militarism — organised murder — I hope that you gentlemen, who are mainly responsible for my predicament, will, with your co-murderers, make some provision for the needs of my widowed-mother, wife and child. whom you have thus far robbed of their breadwinner, and whom, in the event of my demise, will be prevented from obtaining the support that I could otherwise provide.

As military men, and as persecutors of Conscientious Objectors and their families, you have in deed repudiated Christianity, dealt with the United States Constitution as a mere “scrap of paper,” disgraced the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, and trampled under foot the most fundamental tenets of Americanism. Is it any wonder that I pray to God to give you light to see the Truth, and grace to follow it? May He forgive you for past offences!

My life, my family, everything is now in the hands of God. His will be done.

                                                                      Sincerely yours.
(Signed) Benjamin J. Salmon by Daniel Berrigan

by Daniel Berrigan

(for a letter Ben wrote from prison, click HERE)

He brings to mind the buried treasure of the Gospel story, this unlikely hero.
He was born in an unlikely city – Denver, Colorado.
How could he know that one day its resident critics would unite in scoring him. with a great groan of the media, as a “drone” an “arch slacker” a “violent antiwar CO..” a “man with a yellow streak down his spine…”
His crime? He was anti-Denver, anti-American: even anti-Catholic. He was anti war. He was guilty of the Great Refusal. The year was 1914; the country was embarking on Wilson’s “war to end all wars.” And in the bastion of busbies. Salmon dared, cannily, with more than a soupcon of irony, to put his convictions on record:” If killing has to be insisted on, those responsi-ble for war – kings, presidents. Kaisers, etc. – should be made to fight each other and not drag millions of inno-cent youths into a game where they would be compelled to slaughter each other.”
Outrageous. The reaction was swift: was it not war-time, were Catholics not bound (on thinks of the survi-val instinct of an immigrant people and the bidding of their religious authorities) – bound to follow the flag?”
Ben was summarily ejected from the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization famed for its tightfisted Catholic Americanism.
Worse was to come. Imprisoned for refusing induction. Ben encountered a number of priests, chaplains to the military. One after another, each fired off an ecclesiastical salvo. This solitary prisoner was demented or ethically awry, or both; the church would grant him no concession, allow him no sacrament.

In many details. Ben’s story eerily resembles that of an Austrian counterpart, Franz Jagerstaetters, and his resistance against World War II.

Both were working class married men, had fathered children. Both were Catholic, both were repudiated by the church. Both were offered alternative noncombatant service by their governments, and refused the concession. Their decision to resist war worked hardship on their families; spouses endured public odium, children were raised and educated as best the women could, alone.

Jagerstaetter was finally executed. Salmon too was condemned to death, a sentence afterward commuted to 25 years at hard labor.

On November 11, 1918, the armistice was signed. The War to end war was over, but Ben’s sentence had scarcely begun.

In a private war of wills, he was shuttled about the country from one military gulag to another; from Fort Logan. Colorado: to Camp Funston, Kansas; to Camp Dodge, Iowa: then back to Kansas and an ominous phase at Fort Leavenworth.

There was no bargaining with him. he was baffling, outrageous, iron willed. He was Irish. No, he would not work for ” our natural butchering process…the system.” “To work in a military prison is to aid the killing machine.” And Yes, he would organize a strike, to protest the larceny of funds designated for prisoners’ food.

In wit and wisdom he could be devastating: “I would rather be one of the conscientious objectors who died in the stand for genuine Christianity, than to be wearing a breast full of medals for service rendered the devil on fields of battle.”

Today, more than 30 years after his death, his writings offer an anthology of riches.

Suffering lent a razor’s edge to the mind of this “uneducated” working man.

Thus he countered a Jesuit ethician who defended in print the just war theory: ” Either Christ is a liar or war is never necessary; and, very properly assuming that Christ told the truth, it follows that the state is without judicial authority to determine when war is necessary -because it is never necessary.”

No giving in. A further punishment, another circle of hell was devised for him – bread and water and solitary confinement.

Catholic chaplains, exasperated, tarred him as “recalcitrant” and “reckless.”

Six months of this. Released to the prison population, he remained adamant: not a finger lifted, no working for the system. His logic was delicious. He saw concession as a game of dominoes falling: “If I could work five minutes, I could work a day, and if I could work a day, I could work a year, and if I could work a year, I could join the army…”

Off again he was trundled. He was the original patron of holy gyrovagues. a Saint Elsewhere.

The destination This time: Fort Douglas, Utah. He arrived, in shackles.
No, he would not work.

Threatened again, this time with life imprisonment, his response was typical, uncowed.

He put it in writing: the commandant could “have me tried by court-martial immediately and give me a million years in sentences: but I would not go to work.”

The war had come home, as wars will. The brutalities of the battlefields spilled over, a domestic witches’ brew. He and his companions tasted it. He reported: “…starvation, beatings, cold baths in zero weather, bay-oneting, were the order of the day”

Late he added, summing up, and in spite of all. exulting: “Every method of torture was used, and while many died, only a few were broken in spirit.”

The armistice was declared. More than a year passed. And Salmon and the other C.O. s remained in prison.

Hell on earth, being the work of humans, must be endlessly reinvented. For these refusers, new circles within circles were drawn up.

Ben, too, to evaluating his past, with a view toward a further act of resistance.
He recalled how at the start, he had refused to report for induction. He would not work at assigned tasks, or wear a military uniform. He resisted the official theft of prisoners’ food money.

The war ended. And here he sat. under lockup. Prison, that bitter pill, stuck in his throat.

Was this to be borne?

Everything indicated a further step.

On July 17, 1920, Salmon announced his decision; he was undertaking a hunger strike “for liberty or for death.

Christ’s urging that we “overcome evil with good,” he wrote, “is the most effective solution for individual and societary (sic) ills…ever formulated.”

He was at the brink, my life, my family, everything is now in the hands of God. His will be done.”

Though under duress, he could be dauntingly logical in reflecting on his decision. He writes in the tone of Dorothy Day:… We do not attempt to overcome lying with lies; we overcome it with truth. We do not try to overcome curses with curses, but we overcome with silence or with words of friendship…Sickness is not overcome with sickness; it is overcome with health. If I cut my finger, the remedy is not to cut another finger, but to succor the original wound. Anger is overcome by meek-ness, pride by humility.”

And he comes to the nub of his argument: “…the successful way to overcome the evil of war is by the good of peace, a steadfast refusal to ‘render evil for evil’.

No food, no water, indefinitely.

Another military chaplain entered his cell. This one too proved a harrier of our Job. The priest pontificated; Salmon’s hunger strike was “suicidal, and a mortal sin.”

Salmon was unmoved.

And inevitably, official anger flared anew. They were at wits’ end with him.

He was shipped out again, this time on a daunting continental trek. It was an instance of military overkill, with armed guards, a train with drawn shades, a physician, a commandant – all this to control a single prisoner, half dead with fasting.

What were they to do with this baffling subverter?

The prisoner’s train sped out of Utah eastward.

Ben was deposited, under lock and key, in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In the blueprint of hell, a further circle had been devised. It included a dwelling of sorts for the otherwise unclassifiable.

Salmon was classified, once for all, locked in a wing of the hospital set apart for the ‘criminally insane.’ He had been thrust in each of hell’s circles, rejecting each, declaring with a sublime perversity that hits or that cell as will fitted to his needs. Which is to say, to his conscience.

A hospital for the insane, a scene of cacophony and anguish. His report: ” The wilder ones rave and holler, all day long they rant and screech, sometimes in stentorian tones, sometimes a little milder…At night everyone is perfectly quiet except for the intermittent ravings of various unfortunates and the innocent conversations of those who seem to have many friends conversing with them in their solitary cells.”

Salmon had arrived at hell’s home address.

He continue his strike for an unprecedented 80 days. For months, he was force fed several times each day.

But ever so slowly, a tide was gathering. Support for the resister grew, even in the Catholic church.

The military mind, let it be suggested, reasons somewhat like this: when a tactic proves useless, repeat it.

Ben was shipped off once more, from hell to purgatory, so to speak. To Walter Reed Military Hospital. It was the last redoubt of an astonishing survivor.

In November, 1920, signed, sealed, and delivered to Benjamin Joseph Salmon was a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army. Hell had given up its prey.

Peacemaking exacted of Ben Salmon a terrifying price, just short of the fate of Franz Jagerstaetter.

They could not defeat Salmon. But the fasting, the torment of forced feeding, the solitary cage, fell on him like a hundredweight, shortening his life.

In the harsh Chicago winter of 1932, in his 43rd year, he fell ill with pneumonia and within days, died..

See, brutes huff and
puff, they rake the world with
they build hecatombs of shuddering bones.
The God of life
half attentive,
keeps them at edge of
no need of vengeance, of judgment;
they crumble, a faulty tower downwind!
At center eye
the apple of God’s eye
blossoms, swells, ripens
the faithful who fall
straight as a plumb line
God’s right hand!
(after Psalm 33)

July 25, 2015, 5:00 pm

World War I objector Ben Salmon deserves sainthood

Re: “Group wants sainthood for Ben Salmon, World War I draft resister from Denver, July 12 news story

To the U.S. government, Ben Salmon, a Denver man who refused to fight in World War I on religious grounds, was a traitor and a coward deserving scorn and imprisonment.

His stance put him at odds not only with the government but with the Catholic Church in America, whose leading bishops considered the war a just conflict.

But almost 100 years after he was released from prison for refusing to serve, a group of Catholic peace activists is calling on the church to elevate Salmon to sainthood.

When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, Salmon registered for the draft. On the same day, he wrote a letter to President Woodrow Wilson protesting America’s involvement.

“The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is unconditional and inexorable. … When human law conflicts with divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army,” he wrote.

In doing so, he broke with James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore and de facto head of the American church, who sent a letter to Wilson declaring that Catholics would support the war effort.

The church at the time of the Great War bent over backwards to display their loyalty by supporting the war. The bishops were very clear,” said activist Jack Gilroy, who is among those pursuing sainthood for Salmon.

The group, which includes clergy members and lay people from across the country, has met with Diocese of Denver Judicial Vicar Giovanni Capucci.

Capucci told the group, which included Michael Baxter, a theologian who teaches at Regis University, that before the Archdiocese will get behind the effort, Salmon’s supporters will have to show that a “wide community of people” consider him worthy of devotion.

Canonization is a lengthy process that begins in the diocese that was home to the proposed saint, said Karna Swanson, spokeswoman for the Arch diocese of Denver.

Those devoted to Salmon’s cause include Father William Hart McNichols, a Jesuit priest and artist whose work includes a series of religious icons. He’s also the son of former Colorado Gov. Stephen McNichols.

Among McNichols’ icons is a rendering of a haloed Salmon dressed in prison garb titled “Servant of God Benjamin Salmon.”

“Saints are those extraordinary people who risk everything for the love of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Ben survived a prolonged martyrdom and torture because of his beliefs,” McNichols said.

In his time, Salmon had a national reputation as a rabble-rouser. The New York Times called him a spy suspect, and The Denver Post described him as the “slacker, pacifist, the man with a yellow streak down his spine as broad as a country highway.”

He was arrested in 1918, only months before the war ended.

He was convicted in a civilian court, and convicted again by a military court, even though he had never been inducted into the military. He was sentenced to death, had that sentence reduced, then served time in military prisons, where he endured extended periods of solitary confinement and was kept alive by forced feeding during a 135-day hunger strike.

At the end of 1920, the War Department granted pardons to Salmon and 32 other conscientious objectors still in federal custody.

Veterans threatened to run him out of town if he returned to Denver, according to a Denver Post article at the time, and on his release, he moved his family to Chicago.

Salmon had married Elizabeth Smith, the daughter of Samuel Charles Smith, a prominent Denver businessman, not long before his arrest.

When Salmon was released, his wife moved to Chicago along with their son, Charles, to live with him. The couple had three more children, Margaret, Geraldine and Joseph, and when Salmon died of pneumonia in 1932, the family moved to Wheat Ridge.

Elizabeth Salmon went to work as a saleswoman at a local department store, a low-paying job on which to raise four children. Working days, and going to school at night, she eventually landed a better-paying position heading a bookkeeping department, said Geraldine, now 90 and a nun living in New York state known as Sister Elizabeth.

She knew nothing of her father’s experience until a friend showed her a copy of the Catholic Worker newspaper that included a story about him.

“She said “Do you know who this is?’ And I said, ‘Oh, that is my dad.’ My mom never said a word about it because she wanted to shield us. Nobody understood a conscientious objector in the first World War, and she didn’t want us to be heckled like she was,” Sister Elizabeth said.

Salmon’s wife struggled mightily, said her granddaughter, Rosemary Conner, 63, who remembered that while her grandmother’s dresser held pictures of her own parents, there were none of her husband.

“She was certainly embarrassed, and I guess that came from my grandmother’s part of the family. I suppose they didn’t think much of him,” Conner said.

Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671, 

Thank you for your story about my dad, Ben J. Salmon. I was a little girl when my father died in Chicago. Upon dismissal from jail, he was compelled to find work and safely live away from Denver, where he was so hated. His poor physical condition was largely the result of months of forced feeding in federal prison, where a ceramic tube was shoved down his esophagus several times daily, weakening his health and resulting in an early death at 42.

Over the decades since I first learned the story of how my father refused to train to kill, I have found it difficult to believe that his act of conscience to not take part in training to kill would make him undesirable to the people of Denver. I hope the Catholic Diocese of Denver will recognize the goodness in my father’s decision in 1918 to refuse military service. I support the movement to beatify my father and hope other good people of Denver will do the same.


Leaving the Jesuits after 32 years

This week, with a heavy heart, I am officially leaving the Jesuits after 32 years. After three years of discernment, I’m leaving because the Society of Jesus in the U.S. has changed so much since I entered in 1982 and because my Jesuit superiors have tried so hard over the decades to stop my work for peace — most recently, when my provincial ordered me to Baltimore but gave me no assignment and, I felt, encouraged me to leave, as many other superiors have done in the past.

According to my provincial, the Society of Jesus in the U.S. has renounced its commitment to “the faith that does justice.” It has also deepened its financial involvement with the culture of war and decreased its work with the poor in favor of serving through its universities and high schools. Given this change and the lack of support (and, at times, censure) I have endured over the years and its debilitating effect on my health, I realized I could no longer stay.

This decision was sparked three years ago, when Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., removed my priestly faculties because he objected to the prayer vigils for peace and against nuclear weapons development I was leading at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of nuclear weapons. He had received many complaints regarding my peace efforts over the years from the local pastor in Los Alamos and other Catholics who work in Los Alamos, building nuclear weapons.

After this, Fr. James Shea, my Jesuit provincial, the head of the Maryland Province, ordered me to leave New Mexico and return to Baltimore, to be near province headquarters. Instead of supporting my work for peace, he was embarrassed by it. I moved to Baltimore, where the archbishop there gave me full priestly faculties as a priest in good standing, though I was not given an assignment by my provincial. Over the course of several meetings, I felt Fr. Shea was urging me to stop my work for justice and peace and leave the society. He said, for example, that nothing I have done over the last 10 years has had anything to do with the Society of Jesus.

He explained to me that the Society of Jesus has renounced Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s groundbreaking vision of justice and the documents of the 31st and 32nd General Congregations, which call for a radical commitment to justice. It no longer advocates for justice or works for justice, he told me. The Maryland Province has closed all its projects that serve the poor. From now on, he said, because the number of Jesuits is in sharp decline, U.S. Jesuits will only serve in our 25 universities and 25 high schools. This direction, it seems to me, differs vastly from the order I entered in 1982, with its visionary call to “accompany Jesus as he carries the cross in the struggle for justice.” If I stayed, he said, I would have to work in one of the Jesuit high schools.

In recent years, I’ve been saddened to see many Jesuits involved in the U.S. military, our schools deepen their involvement in the U.S. military, and Jesuits permitted to work even in places such as the Los Alamos Labs, West Point, and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As far as I can tell, Jesuits who work for the military can continue their work. I’ve been especially saddened that the Jesuits at Loyola University in Baltimore have been allowed to hold an annual Mass where after Communion, they bring their nearly 100 ROTC cadets into the sanctuary to profess an oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I told my provincial that I consider this blasphemy, a mockery of Jesus and the Eucharist, but he said he had no problem with it.

So after five months in Baltimore as a priest in good standing, I moved back to New Mexico, went on a leave of absence from the Jesuits, continued my discernment, asked to leave and this week, left the society. I’m still a Catholic priest but have no priestly faculties. I doubt any U.S. bishop will give me faculties because most also object to my work against war and injustice, so I’m not sure if I will remain a priest.

In his recent America interview, Pope Francis spoke of the great harm he did when he was a Jesuit provincial through what he called his “authoritarianism.” For decades, my friends and I have suffered under similar authoritarianism. We believe many U.S. provincials and superiors abuse the vow of obedience to suppress public, political work for justice and peace, which we regard as central to discipleship to Jesus and at the heart of the Jesuit mission.

I’ve long believed that Jesus was nonviolent and that he commands us to put down the sword, love our enemies, and become peacemakers and justice-seekers. I think that means every Christian has to become nonviolent and reject war and violence, and that the church, locally and globally, has to reject war and violence and espouse and practice nonviolence. Also, that every religious order has to reject war and violence and espouse and practice nonviolence. If Jesus really is the divine embodiment of peace and nonviolence, then everything has to change to fit within his vision and methodology of nonviolence.

My vocation is to follow the nonviolent Jesus by teaching and practicing the Sermon on the Mount, resisting the culture of war and injustice, and proclaiming and welcoming God’s reign of peace and nonviolence. I’ve been told in very clear terms by many Jesuit leaders that U.S. Jesuits do not do this. I’m very sad about this and am moving on to try to remain faithful to my calling. I’m grateful for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had as a Jesuit — the studies, retreats, prayers, travels, good works and, most of all, friendships.

I think the nonviolent Jesus wants us — all of us — to work as best we can in these critical times for the abolition of war, poverty, nuclear weapons and catastrophic climate change so God’s reign of peace will spread. So I have joined the staff of Pace e Bene, a small group that works to promote Gospel nonviolence. I’m also helping to organize Campaign Nonviolence, which calls for demonstrations across the country in every congressional district before the elections this fall to protest war, poverty and environmental destruction, beginning with a national gathering Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C. I hope everyone will join this exciting movement. We need everyone’s help.

I thank all those who have supported me and my work over the years and ask for your prayers in this time of transition, that I might continue to do my part to promote God’s reign of peace and justice for many years to come. Let’s also pray that the Society of Jesus and the church might uphold the nonviolence of Jesus more and more. May the God of peace bless us all!

[John Dear’s new book, The Nonviolent Life, is available at and John will be in South Africa for the rest of the month and will speak in California in February. He will lead a weekend retreat, “Lotus in a Sea of Fire,” with Roshi Joan Halifax Feb. 28-March 2 at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M. For more information, go to John’s website.]



Landmark Vatican conference rejects just war theory, asks for encyclical on nonviolence

VATICAN CITY — The participants of a first-of-its-kind Vatican conference have bluntly rejected the Catholic church’s long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence.

Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other “major teaching document,” reorienting the church’s teachings on violence.

“There is no ‘just war,'” the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.

“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war,” they continue. “Suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.”

“We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence,” say the participants, noting that Francis and his four predecessors have all spoken out against war often. “We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence.”

From our sister publication: A Place to Call Home, a new series focusing on women religious helping people who are homeless. Read more

Just war theory is a tradition that uses a series of criteria to evaluate whether use of violence can be considered morally justifiable. First referred to by fourth-century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, it was later articulated in depth by 13th-century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas and is today outlined by four conditions in the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Rome conference, held Monday through Wednesday, brought experts engaged in global nonviolent struggles to reconsider the theory for the first time under the aegis of the Vatican.

It comes after a number of theologians have criticized continued use of the theory in modern times, saying that both the powerful capabilities of modern weapons and evidence of the effectiveness of nonviolent campaigns make it outdated.

At a press event launching the conference’s final appeal document — given the title “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence” — several of the event’s participants said the church should simply no longer teach the just war theory.

“I came a long distance for this conference, with a very clear mind that violence is outlived,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda. “It is out of date for our world of today.”

“We have to sound this with a strong voice,” said the archbishop. “Any war is a destruction. There is no justice in destruction. … It is outdated.”

The Catechism currently outlines as one criteria for moral justification of war that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” and notes that “the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”

Odama, who also leads Uganda’s bishops’ conference, said the conditions in the Catechism “are only given to say in reality there should be no war.”

“This is where the group was very strong,” he said, referring to the conference. “We should not give now, at this moment, reasons for war. Let us block them and promote relationships of harmony, of brother and sisterhood, rather than going for war.”

Marie Dennis, an American who serves as a co-president of Pax Christi International, said she and the conference group “believe that it is time for the church to speak another word into the global reality.”

“When we look at the reality of war, when we look at the teachings of Jesus, we’re asking what is the responsibility of the church,” she said. “And it is, we believe, a responsibility to promote nonviolence.”

Dennis also said she understands that people may raise concerns in rejecting the just war theory over needing to stop unjust aggressors. Her group, she said, agrees that violent aggressors have to be stopped.

“The question is how,” said Dennis. “Our belief would be that as long as we keep saying we can do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually could make a difference.”

“As long as we say that dropping bombs will solve the problem we won’t find other solutions and I think that’s feeling more and more clear to us,” she said.

The April conference on just war theory had been discussed for months and was the first cohosted by the Vatican’s pontifical council and Pax Christi, an international Catholic coalition akin to Amnesty International that maintains separate national groups in many countries.

The conference was organized around four sessions allowing participants to dialogue and share experiences with one another. The only scheduled talk at the event was given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the pontifical council, who also read a letter sent to the participants by Francis.

Among other participants were bishops from Nigeria and Japan, and leaders of the Rome-based umbrella groups for men and women religious around the world. Also taking part were a senior policy fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, several noted theologians, and Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.

The group’s final appeal states succinctly: “The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence.”

“In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model,” they state. “Neither passive nor weak, Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action.”

Odama said Jesus “always asked his followers not to resort to violence in solving problems, including in his last stage of life.”

“On the cross, [Jesus] said, ‘Father forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing,'” said the archbishop. “In this statement, he united the whole of humanity under one father.”

“He does not take violent words and violent actions,” said Odama. “That is the greatest act of teaching as to how we should handle our situations. Not violence.”

Dennis said that part of the goal in organizing the conference “was to ultimately lead to an encyclical or a process that would produce major Catholic teaching on nonviolence.”

“We haven’t run into a roadblock yet,” she said. “There are no promises.”

“What we really hope will happen is a process that will engage the Vatican and the Catholic communities around the world in exactly these questions,” said Dennis. “What can we know better about the role that nonviolence can play in shifting our world to a better place?”

Ken Butigan, a lecturer at DePaul University in Chicago and executive director of the non-profit group Pace e Bene, said: “We have gotten a green light for months that this is something that Pope Francis is excited about moving forward on.”

“We are determined to support that momentum at this historical moment,” he said. “We know Pope Francis has a vision and we’re here to support that vision.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

Cover artwork for “An Eye for Others” by Thomas McDonough. (Clemency Press, Washington, D.C., 2016)
Dorothy Day’s books are hot items these days. Ever since Pope Francis identified her as one of four great Americans, up there with Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Thomas Merton, popular interest in her life and writings has burgeoned. New books on Day or the Catholic Worker, the lay movement she and French itinerant Peter Maurin founded, abound.

Thomas McDonough gives us one more with An Eye for Others, a slim, invigorating work featuring articles young Day wrote for the Socialist daily, The New York Call, between the autumn of 1916 and early 1917.

The New York Call‘s “girl reporter” was almost 19 when she arrived in New York City, having left the University of Illinois after two years of study, determined to work for social change through journalism. Eager for employment, she convinced the editor of the struggling, leftist newspaper to hire her as a one-woman “diet squad” reporting on how one could live off of five dollars a week.

Day quickly proved her talent as a writer, garnering 36 bylines during her six months with The New York Call. She covered labor strikes, penned compelling profiles of starving tenement dwellers, reported on the New York food riots of 1917, interviewed Leon Trotsky, followed the fate of the country’s first female hunger striker imprisoned for advocating birth control, and wrote of opposition to the United States’ impending involvement in World War I.

McDonough provides historical context to this collection. Included here are fascinating details about the radicals and bohemians mentioned in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, and the anti-war activism that preceded U.S. entry into World War I.

New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century is a place of crushing poverty, protest, and energetic literary creativity. Young Day absorbed it all, reporting what she saw with intelligence, sardonic humor, and a perspective that inspires faith in our ability to work for a society where, as she would later often write, “it is easier for people to be good.”

The social issues Dorothy covered 100 years ago are astonishingly relevant for us today. Income inequality, the scandalous lack of a living wage, the prioritizing of national security interests (i.e. war-making) over human need are all there, perhaps in more acute form. According to McDonough, the cost of food for the average American family increased 74 percent between 1914-1916, while union wages rose only 9 percent.

Even at 19, Dorothy could articulate a fierce dissent from the cruelties of the status quo without lapsing into despair or cynicism. Describing the ravages of poverty unsparingly, she still noticed beauty and human tenderness in the most desperate corners of human existence.

Her lively dispatches for The New York Call reflect the exuberances of the times. “Sumthin’ and “gee” pepper her prose, but there is nothing superficial about the curiosity of this young woman who, by her own account, had a habit of stopping to look at people to “wonder and wonder about their lives,” how they “got through every day.”

“The Short and Simple Annals of the Poor are Slow Starvation,” reads the headline of an article written in November 1916. Another begins:

Walk up five flights of stairs of the dirtiest and the oldest house on 2d street, past the dirty barber shop on the ground floor, where the two barbers play, for lack of something better to do, on the mandolin and banjo; past the first floor, where a prolific woman with no figure sits surrounded by her brood all day and finishes pants; past the room on the third floor where another woman sits and sews and never looks up, because there is nothing to look at; past the room on the fourth floor, where the little Italian woman bursts into song now and then, forgetting herself and her sorrows when she looks at that clouds that are tinted like the breast of a dove; and then up to the top floor, where the rooms are cheaper.

The New York Call reporter walked up many a stinking, tenement stairwell to listen and write as mothers described their tedious struggle to stave off their children’s hunger. Many of her accounts read like a documentary film, the camera catching the expression of the toddler “gone batty” from malnutrition and how the “little girl of twelve” scrubbed the kitchen clean except for the patch beneath the cot where her ailing father lay, so as not to disturb him.

Faith is implicit in Day’s articles even though they were written prior to her conversion to Catholicism. They bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s charcoal sketches of the miners of Belgium’s Borinage region. In their thoughtful rendering of the lives of the hidden and oppressed, writer and artist remind us, “Here, too, is an image of God.” The perspective of pre-Catholic Day inclined toward Christ Incarnate, especially as he is revealed in the poor.

We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people,” Pope Francis told a gathering of leaders of popular movements in July 2015. Young Day seemed to know this implicitly and avoided flattening reality to fit an ideological lens. Numerically speaking, a person can live off $5 a week, she concluded at the end of her “diet squad” experiment, but life would be a “dull misery” of skimping along. To the 60,000 working girls of New York City, whose “cheerless” existence she too experienced, she advised squandering $1 of one’s weekly wage for a down payment on a phonograph, then savoring the company the music provides.

It has been too long since I read Day’s writings. They invariably stir a deep optimism within me, a peculiar reaction given her focus on life’s harsh realities. Yet after reading her, I always feel working for a just order is not only life’s best option, but could be a profoundly joyous venture. I felt similarly reading An Eye for Others, a wonderful antidote to that culture of indifference we are well-advised to avoid.

[Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, a freelance writer, lives and works at the Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker of Worcester, Mass.]

Sister Elizabeth SalmonMaryknoll, N.Y. This letter was published in the July 26 edition.

From Wikipedia

Salmon was born and raised in a working-class Catholic family, and became an office clerk with the Colorado and Southern Railroad. Outraged by the Ludlow Massacre, he became more active in populist causes such as unionism and the single tax.[2] When President Woodrow Wilson ordered a draft, Salmon was one of a number of Americans to refuse to cooperate.[3] On June 5, 1917, Salmon wrote in a letter to President Wilson:[4]

Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers. God is “our Father who art in heaven.” The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is unconditional and inexorable…. The lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the cross. When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.

Salmon was arrested in January 1918 for refusing to complete a Selective Service questionnaire. While out on bail, he was re-arrested for refusing to report for induction. He was locked in the guardhouse for refusing to wear uniform and forced to work in the yard. Despite not having been inducted, he was court-martialed at Camp Dodge, Iowa on July 24, 1918, charged with desertion and spreading propaganda.[5] He was sentenced to death, but later re-sentenced to 25 years hard labor. He arrived at Fort Leavenworth on October 9, 1918, to start his sentence, just one month before World War I ended on November 11, 1918. He began a hunger strike “for liberty or death” on July 13, 1920.[6] The government claimed that his fast was a symptom of mental illness and sent him to a ward reserved for the “criminally insane” at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., on July 31, 1920.

The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) eventually took up his case and post-war public opinion favored the release of conscientious objectors. Salmon was pardoned and released along with 32 others on November 26, 1920, Thanksgiving Day, and given a dishonorable discharge from the military service he had never joined.[7]

Upon his release, Salmon led a quiet life with his family, but his prison ordeal, which included beatings and force-feedings, had permanently damaged his health. He died of pneumonia in 1932.

Opposition to “just war” theory[edit]

Either Christ is a liar or war is never necessary.

Ben Salmon, A Critique of Just War Doctrine, p.86

Salmon based his pacifism partly on political analysis and humanitarian principles, but also on religious principle derived from his Catholicism. That put him at odds with the leadership of the Catholic Church. Traditional Catholic doctrine advanced the Just war theory. Archbishop James Gibbonsde facto head of the Catholic Church in the United States, had directed that all Catholics were to support the war. The majority of Catholic Bishops supported President Wilson, citing the just war teaching of the Church, and Cardinal John Farley of New York remarked in 1918 that “criticism of the government irritates me. I consider it little short of treason… Every citizen of this nation, no matter what his private opinion or his political leanings, should support the President and his advisers to the limit of his ability.”[8]

Salmon explained his objections to just war theory in a hand-written 200-page manuscript produced during his time in St. Elizabeths Hospital. His only reference tools were a Bible and the Catholic Encyclopedia. He cited Christ’s blessing of the merciful (Matthew 5:7) and the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). He noted that Jesus said “Do not murder” (Matthew 19:18). He declared there was no such thing as a just war and urged Christians to “listen to the voice of Christ echoed from the pages of the New Testament.”[9]

Salmon’s position was so offensive to others in the Catholic Church that some priests refused him the Sacraments even when he was sick and in prison.[10]

Decades later, Catholic peace activists, including Fathers Daniel Berrigan and John Dear, cited Salmon as an inspiration for their anti-war beliefs.[10][11]  See also[edit] Christian anarchism References[edit]

  1. ^ Robert Ellsberg (1997). All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time. p. 77. Archived from the original on 2012-06-15. Retrieved 2012-04-14.
  2. ^ Staff of the Catholic Peace Fellowship (2007). “The Life and Witness of Ben Salmon”Sign of Peace6.1 (Spring 2007).
  3. ^ William R. Douglas (1997). “The Germans Would Court-Martial Me, Too” (PDF)Minnesota History (Fall 1997): 288–301.
  4. ^ Torin Finney (1989). Unsung Hero of the Great War: The Life and Witness of Ben Salmon. pp. 118–9.
  5. ^ “WW1 Conscientious Objectors Database”. Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Archived from the original on November 6, 2016. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  6. ^ Salmon, Ben (July 17, 1920). “Letter from ‘Ben Salmon, U.S. War Prisoner’ to Hon. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War and others”Jonah House. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  7. ^ Dear, John (February 23, 2010). “Ben Salmon and the Army of Peace”National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved November 6,2016.
  8. ^ Parachin, Victor M. (2011). Eleven Modern Mystics and the Secrets of a Happy, Holy Life. p. 30.
  9. ^ Salmon, Ben (September 1920). “A Treatise on Conscientious Objection to War, Capital Punishment, and Homicide”. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  10. Jump up to:a b Dear, John (February 23, 2010). “Ben Salmon and the Army of Peace”National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  11. ^ Berrigan, Daniel“The Life and Witness of Benjamin Joseph Salmon”Jonah House. Retrieved December 16, 2014He brings to mind the buried treasure of the Gospel story, this unlikely hero

Further reading[edit] – Ben Salmon, 1920

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