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War on Peace
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Chuck Haupt
Workshop in Southern Tier Explains Conscientious Objector Status
Binghamton — In May 1981, Bishop Frank Harrison issued a statement that’s getting a second look these days. “The Formation of a Catholic Conscience on War and Peace” came out within months of draft registration instituted by President Jimmy Carter. Bishop Harrison touched on the registration, a potential for a draft, and conscientious objection. That paper was distributed again on May 4 for people who attended a conscientious objector training workshop.
“A conscientious objector is a person who has a belief that it’s wrong to participate in war in any form,” said Paul Frazier of Pax Christi of Syracuse, a member of St. Lucy’s Parish. “Tonight is not the time and place for us to try and deal with what has gone on in Iraq.” But Frazier said the war with Iraq is one reason the workshop was held. “Whatever that means to us as an individual, as a community, as a parent, grandparent, as an uncle. What is this phenomenon of war about?” Several who attended expressed concerns for those who serve now in the military or could potentially serve if there’s a call-up.
“I have a grandson in the 3rd Army, 3rd Brigade, he was part of the invasion of Baghdad. He’s currently experiencing some serious emotional problems, post traumatic stress disorder,” said Joe Coudriet, a social justice minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Endicott. “The reason why I’m here is the same reason I started social justice in 1980 and why I became draft board president in 1985: to make sure Catholics don’t miss and have an opportunity to exercise their rights in regard to military service.” Teri Dempsey of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Vestal, is a teacher. “I’d like to have the alternative to the military recruiters in the local high school,”said Dempsey.
Others had been conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, like Sam Allen of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. “I hope to be able to inform and educate the youth of my parish and the community about the importance and the option for becoming a conscientious objector.” According to the Selective Service System website, no male between the ages of 18 and 25 is exempt from registering. Since there is no draft in place now, there’s no way to ask for a deferment on any grounds. But failure to register can carry stiff penalties, including a $250,000 fine and five years in jail. Registration is also required to obtain federal student aid, job training benefits, and employment with the federal government.
Should there be a call-up, there’s limited time to establish grounds for a deferment. Frazier said in a draft there would be three classifications for service: active in the armed forces, in the armed forces as a non-combatant or 2 years service in the national interest. Dick Keough, who helped Frazier present the workshop, said it’s necessary for young men to understand their options prior to registration. “There is a duty. Those who know should give forth the information to those that are seeking. I think that’s our right being here in a community with young people that have the right to know,” Keough said.
“You don’t say that we don’t want anybody in the military. What we’re saying is let them make a good conscious choice about it so that they know what the church teaches, what the law is,” he said. “They should have the right to know the truth so they can make that decision.” Bishop Harrison’s statement more than two decades ago touched on the complexity of the matter.
“We have witnessed in recent years more and more persons raise disturbing questions about war and peace, about the moral justification of war in general or about this war in particular, about conscientious objection to participation in any type of war.” His words also drew on Vatican II’s “Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity,” which said that Christians as good citizens “should sincerely and actively foster love of country and, while utterly rejecting racial hatred or exaggerated nationalism, work for universal love among men.” As part of his statement, Bishop Harrison named counselors to deal with forming conscience on war and peace. In addition, he established a file of letters for those seeking conscientious objector status.
The diocese continues to register people as conscientious objectors. Information forms, including a sample letter, are available by calling (315) 422-7203. Frazier notes that’s a good first step, but encourages anyone seeking to establish conscientious objector status to mail similar letters to teachers, coaches and others in their life. Several workshops on conscientious objection have been held in recent months around the diocese. Frazier said St. Andrew’s Parish in Syracuse has included the topic in religious education classes. They’ve also created a card to send to the diocese for conscientious objector registration.
In the Southern Region, plans are being formalized to bring The Mental Health players into schools to deal with the topic. In addition, others have discussed the possibility of bringing information workshops to parishes in Broome County.