By Bernard Survil
Bishop John Michael Botean of the Catholic Romanian Diocese, based in Canton, Ohio, was the only U.S. Catholic bishop to tell the faithful of his flock that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 would be an unjust war and one they could not participate in without sinning. This at the time that Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl was quoted as saying at St. Mary’s of the Point Church, downtown Pittsburgh, that the Commander-in-Chief (“W”, not the Pope) had decided; discussion about the morality or advisability of the war should end.
Bishop Botean spoke to some 85 people at Kearns Spirituality Center adjacent to La Roche College, Allison Park on December 7, 2017. Surprisingly, his talk was covered by the editor of The Pittsburgh Catholic and written up in the December 15, 2017 issue of that weekly. Surprisingly too, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Pittsburgh attended, although several younger priests left before the Bishop finished because, as they told a source for this article, they found his presentation “too liberal”.
It was in 2008 that Bishop Botean came out of the Marriott Waterfront Hotel, Baltimore, to thank the seven of us “Friends of Franz and Ben” (www.bensalmon.org), who had occupied the hotel where the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting. We had been forcibly removed by hotel security. The various placards we carried inside the hotel challenged the bishops to remember that Our Lord and Savior lived and preached the Gospel of nonviolence. Nonetheless the Archdiocese for Military Service (AMS) was hosting its annual banquet for the bishops in the same hotel to remind them how closely the US Catholic Church is at the service of the Empire’s military. That marriage was consummated 100 years ago when the US bishops – including Pittsburgh Bishop John Canevin — told President Wilson that he could count on the full participation of US Catholics in the slaughter of German Catholics. The AMS also had a large exhibit about the military chaplaincy in the Marriott Waterfront Hotel corridor.
The night before we Friends of Franz & Ben had invited all the bishops to hear Joshua Casteel tell his story of how he had his eyes opened and conscience awakened to the awful truth of the Iraq War, when as an US Army interrogator at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison he discovered the humanity of those whom he was assigned to interrogate. Only Bishop Botean attended Casteel’s talk and made valuable comments during the Q/A. Botean’s Kearns talk included references to Joshua Casteel’s story. It’s found at: http://www.joshuacasteel.com/
I discovered very recently that, as a seminarian, Botean had been an intern at the Center on Conscience and War in Amherst, Mass. The Center was founded by Gordon Zahn, author of In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter (1964). That work was widely read by those who became Vietnam War resisters or Conscientious Objectors. It also led to Austria declaring Franz a national hero, and the Austrian Church successfully advocating for the beatification of Franz in 2007.
We Friends of Franz/Ben were grateful for Botean’s talking with Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago to alert him and the Catholic Faithful of our staging a vigil at the gravesite of Ben Salmon on 20 June, 2017 at an Archdiocesan cemetery outside Chicago. As a result of that action, supported by Botean, the formerly unmarked grave now has a stone that reads: “Thou shall not Kill…There is no such thing as a just war…Benjamin Salmon.”
Relatively young, age 66 in 2018, Botean is a lonely voice in the US Bishops’ Conference. Even his colleague Bishop Tom Gumbleton of Detroit has given up on his fellow US Bishops seriously objecting to U.S. militarism. Yet Botean has not lost his voice nor his capacity to inspire, as he did on December 7th at Kearns. The talk is accessible at https://youtu.be/RNx_F4-OwzM recorded by the talk’s sponsors: The Association of Pittsburgh Priests.
Bernard Survil has been a member of the TMC since its beginning and is very appreciative that it channeled donations to his work in Central America during the 1980’s.