Removing the Sword from the Cross
By Doug Pritchard, Canada Coordinator, Christian Peacemaker Teams
Three Christians were tried on May 15, 2000 for their attempt on Good Friday, April 2, 1999, to remove a bronze sword affixed to a stone cross at St. Paul's Anglican Church in downtown Toronto. Their action was the culmination of a two year campaign to have churches renounce the Just War teaching and their complicity with state-sponsored violence.
Their campaign included writing letters and meeting with parish authorities. Vigils were held in front of the monument. The authorities of six mainline churches in Toronto were contacted and a vigil was held in front of their offices.
The three men, Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) Reservist and Catholic priest Bob Holmes, former MP and Anglican priest Don Heap, and CPT trainer Len Desroches, were supported in court by one hundred people, including priests, nuns, war veterans, street workers and students.
St. Paul's Warden, Harston Forde, testified that he accepted the men were sincere but they had a "following" who might have destroyed the cross. That's why he called out 30 police to charge the three men with "mischief over $5,000" and trespassing.
Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Michigan, speaking for the defense, said "The sword and cross cannot go together. It is contradictory and the sword would have to be removed. It would be like draping a Nazi swastika on a Jewish menorah." Janet Somerville, General Secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches, told the court "Removing the sword was not mischief. It would enhance the value of this monument. Nonviolence is a magnet issue being discussed in all the churches today."
Testifying in his own defense, Fr. Holmes said "The cross is the symbol of God's unconditional love of enemy. To put a sword there is blasphemous." Rev. Heap said "The church has for too long turned to Caesar for protection of its property and privilege." Explaining his motivation, Len Desroches said "Putting a sword on the cross profoundly and dangerously confuses the Christian community. The empty cross of itself is a powerful force. Christians must decide with which force they are allied."
The "Sword and Cross" witness ended on June 19 when they were found guilty of "attempt to commit mischief." The Crown Prosecutor said that "for the peace of mind" of church officials who brought the charges, they were not seeking jail terms. Because the men gave their word that their witness was now complete, the judge gave them an absolute discharge. They face no punishment but a criminal conviction is entered on their records. The judge noted that the men believed a sword on Christ's cross to be blasphemous and that some church leaders supported their view. He noted that they had caused no disturbance nor actual damage to property before they were arrested. However, he rejected their defense that they had acted out of urgent necessity citing the strict controls on such a defense.
Long-time activist Phil Berrigan wrote from prison saying "The church has made many trade-offs: tax exemptions and privilege in return for accepting Caesar as King. You are Christians of a different stripe."
Desroches in his pre-sentencing statement said "This matter is urgent. People are dying daily from war. Slavery was once legal too. It is time to begin a new abolitionist movement and abolish the institution of war."
Holmes said, "The Pope has condemned all recent wars and is moving in the direction of rejecting all war."
Heap said they had acted only when other attempts at dialogue had failed. "Toronto's Anglican bishop only began to talk about 'just war' the day before our trial. Our action was necessary to bring that about." The judge responded to Heap, "Pardon my imagery, but you appear to have won this battle and may well win the war."
For more information, contact: Bob Holmes (416) 532-7105; Len Desroches (416) 975-4897; Rev. Don Heap (416) 340-9538 or Christian Peacemaker Teams, Box 72063, 1562 Danforth Ave., Toronto ON M4J 5C1. Tel.: (416) 421-7079 email: cptcan @web.ca