Freelance Troublemaker Leads Anti-Nuke Charge

News & Politics

During his brief two-year tenure in northern New Mexico, Father John Dear has tangled with Archbishop Michael Sheehan, New Mexico National Guard soldiers and his own parishioners over his anti-war views. Dear, a Jesuit priest with a felony record and more than 75 arrests from past peace protests, now is targeting Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is slowly reopening after its latest security scandal blamed on missing classified computer disks.

"We're praying. We're begging God to shut down this place that builds these weapons," Dear told the Santa Fe Reporter. "We don't have any ill will for the people of Los Alamos. We want to say the people are good, the work is evil." "They can't even handle the security of the place," he added. "How can we trust them with nuclear weapons?"

It's a question protesters will be asking, or shouting, in Los Alamos on Friday, Aug. 6. A protest march, which begins at 7:15 a.m. and goes from Ashley Pond to the Lab, will mark the 59th anniversary of the US atomic blast that killed or injured 160,000 people in Hiroshima, Japan. A daylong rally also will be held on the Plaza in Santa Fe, with speeches by peace activists scheduled at 2 p.m.

Dear will help lead the Los Alamos Hiroshima Day protest, unlike last year when Sheehan ordered him not to attend because of conflicts within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe about his activist role. Dear is no longer under Sheehan's authority; he resigned in June after serving as pastor of several northern New Mexico parishes since 2002. He now is concentrating on his writing and anti-war speeches scheduled across the country. "Jesuits have always been freelance troublemakers anyway," Dear says. "For me, there's no real distinction between spiritual and political. To me, the Gospel is totally political. Jesus was executed, and everything he did was nonviolent and illegal."

Eagle Nest parishioners were so infuriated by Dear's sermons against the Iraq war last year they asked Sheehan to remove Dear from the parish. Sheehan complied with the request, leaving Dear still in charge of parishes in Cimarron, Springer and Maxwell.

Last December, Dear encountered a group of New Mexico National Guard soldiers on a fitness run outside his home in Springer, so he encouraged them to quit instead of being sent to Iraq. Dear hopes Los Alamos National Laboratory employees plagued by low morale from yet another security scandal also will quit the Lab. He says he has encouraged about a dozen Lab employees to quit over the past year, but he doesn't know if any resigned. "I think God does not bless the work of making weapons of mass destruction, so I hope people have the courage to find other life-giving jobs," he says. "That place is a disaster at every level, not the people but the work." Dear moved south of Santa Fe after resigning from the archdiocese, and founded a New Mexico branch of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Celine Radigan wouldn't comment on past conflicts regarding Dear's activism. She says Sheehan has not ordered priests to steer clear of controversial topics but "has just asked the priests of the archdiocese to preach according to Roman Catholic teachings." For Dear, that means focusing on Christ's teachings of peace and nonviolence. "It's time to stop all work on weapons of mass destruction and to be consistent with our policy around the world," he says. "If Iraq can't have one, we can't have 20,000."

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