By Ed ShanahanPublished Aug. 17, 2022Updated Aug. 19, 2022
The Rev. Carl Kabat, a Roman Catholic priest and tenacious yet joyful foe of nuclear weapons who spent nearly 20 years in prison for protests that involved bolt cutters, human blood and clown costumes (red nose included), died on Aug. 4 in San Antonio. He was 88.
His death, at a retirement home affiliated with his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was confirmed by the Oblates. No cause was provided.
Father Kabat, citing Corinthians, called himself a “fool for Christ,” but his cause was serious: sounding the alarm about the doomsday threat posed by the world’s nuclear arsenal.
Arriving before the morning shift began, the group, which included the Rev. Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, walked past a security guard and into the plant. Once inside, they used claw hammers to damage nose cones for Minuteman missiles and sprinkled their own blood from baby bottles onto blueprints and other documents. They then joined hands, prayed and sang hymns, one of the eight, Molly Rush, recalled in an interview.
The episode, among the most prominent antiwar protests since the Vietnam War, led to burglary and other charges against the participants, who called themselves the Plowshares Eight, after the Bible’s reference to nations that “shall beat their swords into plowshares.”
He was later assigned to the Philippines and then to Brazil. It was in South America that the teachings of liberation theology, with its emphasis on addressing social, political and economic inequity in the service of ultimate salvation, began to take hold.
“He was subjected to real poverty there,” Ms. Radake said.
He returned to the United States in 1973. The Cold War was grinding on, the Vietnam War was nearing its end and the impact of the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s was still rippling through the country’s Catholic ranks.
The Oblates said that Father Kabat had embraced a statement included in Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris”: “Justice, right reason and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation of the arms race.”
He was still committing acts of civil disobedience in his 80s. In 2016 and again in 2019, he splashed red paint on an entry sign at the National Security Campus in Kansas City, Mo., a federal Energy Department facility that makes non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons systems. In both instances, he was charged with trespassing and damaging property.
Interviewed by The Greeley Tribune of Colorado in 2009, Father Kabat said he wanted his tombstone to say, “He really lived.”
“Joyfulness is very, very important,” he said. “Do what a person can do, then sing and dance.”