Dec 25, 2009 The
Bill Johnson Column: Priest guilty of fortitude
By Bill Johnson
As the seven-person jury filed from the courtroom, having just
returned two guilty verdicts against him, Father Carl Kabat rose from
his chair and applauded them.
mischief and trespassing, both misdemeanors, for cutting a hole in a
fence that guards a Minuteman III nuclear missile silo in
last August, draping antiwar banners around the silo, saying a prayer
and trying unsuccessfully to pry open its lid.
It is what Carl Kabat does. He has spent the better part of the past
three decades in prison for staging similar protests here and across
the United States against the missiles, whose very existence he calls
Weld County Court Judge Dana Nichols sentenced the 76-year-old priest
to the 137 days he spent in county jail following his arrest and gave
prosecutors time to seek restitution to F.E. Warren Air Force Base for damages.
I don't have many heroes, but Carl Kabat is one of them. I deeply
admire men of conviction, particularly those who buck the system and
gnaw relentlessly at it in the pursuit of peace.
I was introduced to him years ago, not long after he was released from
the federal penitentiary in
staging a similar missile silo protest.
He sat down with me for dinner, shrugged and acted as if he had just
served an hour in third-grade detention.
"Do you know how many men I ministered to in
saying over and over as I marveled that any man would so freely give
up his liberty in the pursuit of a cause so many people over the years
I caught up with him this week as he rushed to get home to
to spend Christmas with his younger sister, his only surviving
sibling, and the rest of his family.
I asked him of his applauding the jurors, some of whom wept as they filed out.
"They were good people, intelligent, serious and thoughtful. They were
good eggs," he said.
He had fired his court- appointed lawyers during the two-day trial, a
preplanned move he had insisted on so he could address the jury personally.
"I don't know you," he told them during closing arguments, "but you
are my sisters and brothers. We're all God's children, and we have to
look after one another. We have to be significant actors."
"Significant actors" is one of Carl Kabat's favorite expressions. It
means going outside of yourself, he always says, to take positive
action against that which you know to be wrong.
He had wanted, he explained, for one or more on the panel to see the
righteousness of his cause and hang the jury.
"What are you going to do?" he said. "I applauded them to thank them.
They had given it thought."
We talked for a long time, about the law and morality, him recalling a
time long ago that he stepped off a bus and saw a sign.
"It said 'black water' and 'white water.' I kick myself to this day
that I didn't take a drink of black water, even one swallow. What
could they have done to me?"
I asked him, as I always do, if he planned yet another protest anytime
soon. And for the first time ever, Carl Kabat hedged.
"I'm 76 years old, older than my old man when he died, so I might be
living on borrowed time," he said.
"I might have died in prison, I might die on the way to
Either way is OK with me. I am just going to take my life and the
message day by day."
Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at
303-954-2763 or firstname.lastname@example.org.