(Photo Caption: The Stop Banking the Bomb Campaign calls attention to PNC Bank’s investment in nuclear weapon manufacturers on April 24th. (Photo provided by Bette McDevitt)
By Bette McDevitt
Rev. Dordal is a member of the Thomas Merton Center and a coordinator of the Stop Banking the Bomb Campaign, which is targeting PNC Bank’s investments in nuclear weapons manufacturers. The following is an interview of Rev. Dordal.
Q: Please tell us a little about your background. What churches have you been associated with, what led you to seek that further training in Catholic theology, and then, what it meant to be a chaplain in the Army, and were you in a chaplain in Iraq?
A: I was raised in a Roman Catholic home in NYC, but in my teenage years, I strayed from my faith. It wasn’t until I was 31, in 1995, that I had a dramatic epiphany and returned to faith in Jesus. I discerned a call to the ministry, but I first was ordained as a Protestant minister. Upon redeploying from Iraq in 2010, I decided to return to my Catholic roots and joined an Eastern rite Catholic Church. Studying under a bishop for several years and studying Catholic theology at Duquesne University prepared me for my current vocation as an Eastern-rite priest.
As for my chaplaincy in the U.S. Army, it was at first a noble endeavor. I sincerely believed there was a great need for spiritual support of soldiers going to war. Nevertheless, it was while serving in Iraq during the war that my eyes were opened. I began to question my own moral convictions about my military service, but more importantly I came to believe that US military involvement, not only in Iraq, but all around the world, was also gravely immoral.
Q: What was it that made you become an anti-war activist, and a very public one, willing to do civil disobedience?
A: Seeing first-hand the devastation of war on so many innocents in Iraq and also [my time] studying at Duquesne University sharpened my theological convictions about the senselessness and immorality of war. Additionally, I came to recognize that I could not only “believe” in nonviolence, but I had a moral responsibility to act publicly on those convictions.
Q: In your online bio, you mention the “revolutionary Jesus.” Our readers might like to know if that plays a large part in this this decision.
A: Absolutely! I had a second sort of epiphany after Iraq, and I recognized that Jesus’s life was a ministry of radical confrontation of empire and its systems of violence and injustice. Jesus did not come only to die a spiritual death on behalf of all people, but his sacrifice was the revolutionary beginning of a whole new way of being human and ordering society. Now, this beloved Kingdom of God (Paul’s own phrase) that Jesus proclaimed in word and deed is our responsibility to enact, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This means that as a Christian, I must intentionally confront the evils of empire, especially the U.S. empire with its 800+ military bases, thousands of nuclear missiles and, most dangerously, its evil system of imperial capitalism that perpetuates violence and oppression in our world.
Q: How did you come to the Merton Center to work for peace?
A: A few years ago, when I decided to follow my convictions of becoming a peacemaker, I joined Veterans For Peace (VFP). However, there was no active VFP chapter in Pittsburgh at the time, so I made my way to the Thomas Merton Center and joined the Anti-War Committee. There I found kindred spirits, both Christian and non-Christian alike, who had the same passion to bring peace and justice to our hurting world.
Q: I would guess that finding so many people sharing your concern and supporting your action has been encouraging, and would you comment on that?
As a full-time hospital chaplain, I do not have a local parish that I am a part of. In many ways members of the Merton Center, Veterans For Peace, and other people from the wonderful justice groups that I am connected to have become a “church” community to and with me. Maybe it could be called Church on the Way.
Sometimes, when I think that our work is too daunting and the struggle too hard, I look to people like Joyce Rothermel, Edith Bell, Michael Drohan, and other Merton Center members who have been doing this work for many years and I say, “That’s me. I am in this for the long haul.” Also, I keep this Spanish liberation theology phrase in mind: Luchar por la justicia es rezar (To struggle for justice is to pray).
Q: To bring in the local aspect, how did you come to make your home in Pittsburgh?
A: My family moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2004 from the Bronx, NY when I was called to pastor a church in Aliquippa, PA. My family is now settled in Penn Hills, PA, where we have lived for the last ten years. It took a while to transition from the culture of NYC, but we are truly Pittsburghers now.