In God's name: Father Carl Kabat has spent a lifetime protesting
nuclear weapons and doesn't plan to stop
Five months in
Carl Kabat's normally patient and jovial demeanor.
He misses the outdoors, the freedom to move around, which at 76 is
getting harder to do anyway.
With the potential for another several months under lock and key, the
longtime Catholic priest and member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Order shrugs in his orange jail jumpsuit and smiles. He lives one day
at a time.
Whatever the price, Kabat stays strong in his resolve against an issue
that was more prominent during the Cold War, but which has been pushed
to the backburners of political and social discourse today — he wants
these nuclear weapons, the Minuteman III missiles buried in the ground
promptly getting thrown in jail for it.
He chuckles at the question: “Why?”
“This is, ‘You put your arse where your mouth is,'” jokes Kabat
through a video screen at the
affectionately nicknamed “The Podfather.” “If someone has a better way
to do it,” then let him know, he muses.
He'll flip from the silly to serious in a heartbeat: “How many people
has N-8 killed even though it's never been used?”
People who know Kabat know his latest protest in Weld probably won't
be his last tangle with the criminal justice system. He's lived now
almost 18 years of his life in jails and prisons for his cause, in
which he enters missile silos throughout the
anti-nuke banners, hangs up his clown doll, does a little damage, and
waits in prayer while authorities, usually from nearby Air Force
bases, collect him for jail. It's almost a routine.
Last August, he took his umpteenth trip to
Louis with friends on the anniversary of the American bombing of
Hiroshima in World War II, en route to the N-8 missile silo on
14, about eight miles west of New Raymer in northeastern
Just before the action, he sat calmly in the back seat of the car.
Friend and fellow peace activist Chrissy Kirchhoefer, 32, of St.
Louis, said he was as calm as she'd ever seen him before an “action.”
“Carl can get pretty anxious, especially about preparing for actions,”
Kirchhoefer said, adding that anxiety is more about a fear of the
unknown. “I've never seen him more calm. He was so relaxed. It was
beautiful. It was around 6-7 a.m., an amazing morning. The moon was
setting, the sun was rising. It was gorgeous.”
He was promptly arrested, giving up the freedom and independence he values.
He could die in his concrete cell — his three brothers and his father
all died of heart problems. He could live to see another 20 years.
“He's forewarned us the last couple of times he's gone in that he may
die in prison,” Kirchhoefer said. “It was interesting before he went
in. Someone in the community asked him, ‘Why do you like going to
“He said: ‘I don't like it at all. If I'm not doing it, who else is?'
He feels compelled certainly to (protest), and he feels a
responsibility. He's spending time away from family and friends. I'd
love to say, ‘Carl, I'd love to have you here and it's really hard
when you're away.' But he does feel compelled to do the right thing.”
Who is this guy?
There's no anger in Father Carl, even while he's living in probably
the angriest place in
no outside reading materials allowed and limitations on his freedom.
His grandfatherly laugh seems to boom through the murky telephone line
in the jail, as does his use of words like “crappin' ” to describe the
“It's hopefully making a statement, too, but it could be
counterproductive,” Kabat said of his zealousness about nuclear arms.
“It gets people angry. Sorry about that.”
The former teacher, football coach and avid basketball fan now only
has a little sister and her children's families in
when he's not in jail.
Coming out of the seminary when it was wise to keep his mouth shut,
Kabat will do nothing of the sort today. He's always been a bit of
scofflaw, his friends say, which is more about getting things done
than waiting for permission to do it.
He roams the earth as a free spirit, his concern for humanity at the
forefront of his mind.
“I kinda live from day to day,” Kabat says. “One day my brother Paul
and I, he was one year ahead of me in seminary. He acted strange. ...
Finally, after supper he walks up to me and says, ‘Happy birthday.'
... What's past is past. I've even forgotten my own birthday. Carpe
An avid reader, he is blind in one eye due to complications of a
contact lens implant after losing vision from a cataract.
“I figure I can see with my left eye, better than 20/20,” Kabat says.
“Now, doctors say my right eye has been ruined. I do well with my
As you may think, he's a man of big principles. This Catholic priest
has issues with church policies, with
sexism. He stands against capital punishment, he'll protest war and
nuclear arms. He has let his convictions take him straight to jail and
prison since his first protest in 1976, when he flew a banner with
friends at an event prior to President Jimmy Carter's inauguration.
But of all the time he's spent behind bars on behalf of his protests
of the crimes against humanity, the blood he's spilled on the White
House or the Pentagon, he has one big regret. In the early 1960s, he
wished he would have marched with Martin Luther King.
He wished he would have drunk from the “black” water fountain when he
got off a train in
“Like 57 years ago, when I got off the train ... and I saw a black
water fountain and a white water fountain, I didn't do anything,” he
These are the thoughts that keep a 76-year-old Catholic priest, mostly
on the outs with the mainstream Catholic church, thinking, pondering,
yet not worrying about what lies ahead.
Father Carl Kabat's trial is scheduled Monday and Tuesday in Weld
County Court. If convicted of the two misdemeanors crimes of criminal
mischief and trespassing, he could be sentenced up to a year in jail
as punishment (though he would get credit for the time already
Father Carl, born on the family farm in Scheller, Ill., one of five
children, has been described as an idealistic young priest when he was
ordained in 1959 in
will learn little about his formative years.
As he is today, Kabat was revered in his circles in his early years,
said his sister, 24 years his junior.
“I grew up knowing him only as a priest,” said his youngest and only
living sibling, MaryAnn Radake of
brother was ordained. “He was a very caring and considerate person,
along with being a jokester. ... When I was 7, he took me to
to the parishes he was ministering in at the time. I had a wonderful
time traveling with him. It was a highlight of my young life.”
But his missionary experiences in the
mid- and late 1960s, where he witnessed children dying of starvation
and governments loath to care, changed him. He came back to the United
States just as haunted as many
“When he came back from
dad, who was a farmer, was being paid not to produce food, (Carl)
didn't know why we were allowing people to starve, but at the same
time willing to put guns and other things in their hands,” said
Radake, who agrees with her brother's anti-nuclear message. “He didn't
understand the whole political thing, so the more he looked in, the
more he tried to go mainstream, write letters, contact congressmen,
the way everyone's told to do it.”
In 1976, he had gone to
Day, where more than 1,100 Catholic bishops were convening. He met up
with the Berrigan brothers, who are considered by many to be the
original nuclear protesters in this country. A group of them went to
protest nuclear arms — which have always been condemned as a crime
against humanity by the Catholic church — at an event prior to
The banner said something like “ ‘No more Hiroshimas' or something
like that,” he recalls with what becomes a characteristic squeeze of
the forehead, jogging his memory.
“We were all found guilty by a kangaroo court,” Kabat said. “I was
sentenced to $100 dollars and 30 days. A second judge said, ‘Get them
out of jail,' because we were found guilty of obstructing traffic, and
we were standing on the grass. That was my first arrest.”
That first arrest in Plains,
“In my imagining of it, that's where Carl finds peace and purpose,
peace for himself in his troubled heart,” said Kelley Ryan, a Clayton,
Mo., drama teacher who wrote the play, “And Carl Laughed” in 2007.
“And it gives him a purpose on how to justify living in this country.”
His parents died while he was in jail; his three brothers also have
passed in recent years.
Through it all, Carl has tried to laugh, part of that
“I was in
wanted on our tombstone,” Kabat recalls. “ I (chose), ‘He really
lived.' No fancy bits, no this or that. I say do what you can do, sing
and dance. Joyfulness is very, very important. Do what a person can
do, then sing and dance.”
When he's not protesting nuclear arms or the death penalty, Kabat
spends his time helping raise up those in poverty by rehabilitating
houses through the Catholic worker movement and giving talks to
He knows the masses may have forgotten about the threat that lies
beneath them, buried underground encased in metal that could be set
off by the slightest human error — one that could end it all.
“When people hear the story and what it's about, they don't see it as
crazy, they see it as, ‘Wow, someone is doing something,'” said Bill
Sulzman, a longtime friend of Kabat's from
an important question to be raised. In some cases, there is a
disbelief the problem even exists.”
It's a fear that keeps Kabat going to prison or jail — where he
traditionally refuses to post the minimal bonds for release. After
four months in jail in
Dana Nichols reduced his $5,000 bond to $2,500. Kabat declined to pay
the bond and decided to stay until his trial, which is scheduled to
begin this week.
Behind bars, Kabat can relax. He'll say, “I'm freer here than on the outside.”
There is nothing he can do behind bars. It's on the outside that he
pushes himself to constant vigilance.
“For many of us, Father Carl Kabat walks in the light of Jesus,” said
Frank Cordaro, a Catholic worker from Des Moines,
alive today, this is one way in which Jesus would be trying to reach
the people of the
on the line for what he believes, and this makes him a hero.”
Kabat's weapons protests have long been logged into the history books,
being a part of the original Plowshares 8, a group that broke into the
General Electric plant in 1980 in
damaged two missile silo nose cones and poured their own blood on
weapons plans, essentially spearheading the anti-nuclear movement. The
word plowshares comes from the Bible verse, Isaiah 2:4 to “beat swords
His exploits have landed him in many a newspaper article. He's been
featured in the 1983 movie called “In the
details that first Plowshares action and stars Martin Sheen as the
judge. He's been featured in the book “Prophets Without Honor,” by
William Strabala of
His decades of dissent were even dramatized by Kelley Ryan, the
theater teacher at
accounts of his travails. Her student troupe in 2007 performed the
American High School Theatre Festival.
“Carl's message is very clear. Very specific,” said Ryan, who remains
at Clayton High, and uses Kabat's story as her own inspirational tool
every day. “Having a nuclear arsenal is immoral and inhumane, and
he'll tell you that message over and over and over again. The message
of the play is that we have to know what our message is, and that it's
about taking action in whatever way you can to better the world.
Sometimes, the only way you can deal with a bad world is by taking
action. That is what I think Carl does.”
Kabat saw that play after another stint in prison. He didn't applaud.
He stormed the stage in tears to hug all the kids involved.
Making a Difference
Friends and family say Kabat inspires by his actions their own
concerns of the calamity of nuclear weapons, war, weapons
manufacturers or government takeover, whatever they feel strongly
about. They act out in their own ways, but they say they cannot match
Kirchhoefer protests the Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems, or
“smart bomb” plant in
resistance gathering. Sulzman has focused his protests on the
in his day, as well. Cordaro has done his own plowshare actions, even
on B-52 bombers. Priests and nuns across the country do their own
plowshare protests, which quietly make the many anti-nuclear movement
Internet blogs but not the mainstream media.
For the teens who acted out the life and struggles that define Father
Carl, nuclear weapons evolved to an issue of modern day reality, their
“When we started this process, the kids were like nuclear weapons? Who
cares? They're insurance,” Ryan said, adding that nuclear testing in
Everyone involved in Kabat's life expects his trial to go as usual
this week: A quick conviction, and an ignorance of international law,
contrary to international humanitarian law,” and the
declaration in 1965 that nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity.
Judges have chastised Kabat in the past for sending the wrong message
of committing crimes to protest a crime.
He's a tenacious protester.
“He's pacing himself,” Kirchhoefer said of her elderly mentor and
friend, whose vitality she says rivals her own parents. “I see him
going back. I can't see him staying out, but at the same time, he
really enjoys life and lives it fully when he is outside.”
Kabat has managed through the years to stay healthy, even as a smoker.
But there is no escaping that ticking clock.
“At some point, he'll be too physically and probably intellectually
unable,” said Sulzman, who met Kabat through visits with him at a
federal prison in
will voluntarily (stop) for personal reasons. I think he'll continue
seeing this as his quest as long as it's physically possible. ... He's
still doing this when most people have retired.”
And while Kabat feels the effects of age, which prohibit him from
doing as much damage as he'd like to the silos he enters, he doesn't
yet feel a call to stop.
“Get rid of these damn things,” Kabat said. “They're insane. It's our
responsibility. ... If we make the decision to have the state murder
people, that's not God's will, that's our will.”
There's no ego involved, however. While his friends say he walks in
the light of Jesus and has a God-like presence, his convictions are
personal. He's marching to his own orders.
“I'm making a difference for Carl, it makes Carl feel good,” he says.
“I didn't do what I did on Aug. 6 for you or anyone else. I did it for
Carl, to follow my own conscience. If it's helped, fine. Unless you
know another way, do it. I did this, I've done that. If you know of
some other way, then do it.”
A lifetime of civil disobedience
Father Carl Kabat was born in 1933 in Scheller,
priest in 1959. He has been protesting nuclear weapons much of his
adult life, and has spent almost 18 years behind bars for his cause.
He has been in
a missile silo facility in northeast
» 1961-65, he worked in parishes in
» 1965-68, missionary work in the
» 1968-69, returned to
» 1969-73, he served in
with the poor. In 1973, he fled an arrest warrant in
inciting a revolution by conducting a church social. “He was preaching
friend Chrissy Kirchhoefer.
» 1973-77, he worked in
his brother, Paul Kabat.
» 1976, was when he was arrested in Plains,
a permit. He was addressing nuclear arms at Jimmy Carter's home.
» 1977-80, lived in
House. He was arrested twice in 1978 for spilling blood at the
Pentagon; sentenced to six-month terms in jail.
» In 1979, he was arrested and jailed in
sale of weapons to Brazilian generals.
» In 1979-80, he was arrested for pouring blood on the White House.
» In 1980, he was arrested at the GE nuclear missile plant in King of
Prussia, Penn., as a part of the original Plowshares 8. He served 14
months in prison while case was appealed.
» 1983, he was arrested in
be a part of a Plowshares movement there. He was released.
» In 1984 at Whiteman Air Force Base in
Paul Kabat, and two others took a jackhammer powered by generator to a
nuclear missile silo. For that, he and another got 18 years in prison.
He was released on parole in 1991.
» 1992-93, he was arrested for unlawful entry at a missile silo in
» April 1, 1994, he went to a silo in
for destruction of government property, conspiracy and intent to
damage the national defense. Sentenced to five years in federal prison
and served half of that.
» 1996, he was arrested in
served balance of his sentence. Released in 1998.
» August 2000, he enters the N-7 missile silo in northeastern Weld
County wearing a clown suit. He and a friend are charged with entering
a fenced military facility without permission, a federal misdemeanor.
He was sentenced to time served, 83 days. He also violated probation
in that case.
» April 9, 2004, he again broke into a Weld County missile silo,
charged with second-degree criminal trespassing and second-degree
» June 20, 2006, he joined two others in entering the
lid of an underground silo. In September, a jury found them guilty of
destruction of government property. Sentenced to 15 months, and
ordered to repay $17,000 in restitution to the
» Aug. 6, 2009, he enters the N-8 missile silo in northeast Weld
County. He has been charged with trespassing and criminal mischief.
His trial is set this week.
Source: “Prophets Without Honor,” by William Strabala and Tribune archives.
Update on Fr Carl Kabat's case
Report on visit to Fr Carl Kabat by Bill Sulzman
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Fr Carl Kabat's trial date changed to Dec 21-22, 2009
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Service story by Dennis Sadowski
Fr Carl Kabat's B-Day 10/10 - turns 76 in jail!
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