Feast of James Carney (September 16)   Leave a comment

Above:  Honduras and Nicaragua, 1957

Scanned from Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1957)

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JAMES FRANCIS CARNEY (OCTOBER 28, 1924-SEPTEMBER 16, 1983)

U.S.-Honduran Roman Catholic Priest, Missionary, Revolutionary, and Martyr, 1983

Also known as Padre Guadeloupe

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To be a Christian is to be a revolutionary.

–Father James Carney

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The national security policy that justifies everything that is done in terms of U.S. security is an evil policy.  Father Carney got in trouble because he fell in love with poor people.  Other people get in trouble because they fall in love with riches and power and glory and pomposity.

–Joseph Connolly, brother-in-law of James Carney

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James Francis Carney took up his cross and followed Jesus to his death.

Carney, born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 28, 1924, grew up in a devout and middle-class Roman Catholic family in the Middle West.  He was an altar boy, a football player, and a member of the St. Louis University High School Class of 1942.  Our saint attended St. Louis University on a football scholarship.  While playing the sport he injured a knee; he had a bad knee for the rest of his life.  Myopia and a bad knee did not prevent conscription into the U.S. Army during World War II.  He, serving in the European Theater as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, found living piously in the military difficult.  The frequent profanity proved especially disturbing.

Carney’s life changed after the war.  In 1946 he resumed studies at St. Louis University for a year.  Our saint matriculated at the University of Detroit, to study civil engineering, in 1947, but left after a year.  Religious life was calling.  While at Detroit Carney first read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  He spent the rest of his life synthesizing Christianity and Marxism.  In 1948 our saint matriculated at St. Stanislaus Seminary, Flourissant, Missouri.  Carney joined the Society of Jesus.  He served as a missionary in British Honduras (now Belize) from 1955 to 1958 then studied at St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s, Kansas.  He became a priest in 1961.

Honduras has a sad political history.  The economically underdeveloped country has a long record of military dictatorships and corrupt and repressive governments.  Poverty is rampant, entrenched, and intergenerational, and institutional.  As in other parts of the former Spanish Empire, relatively few people own most of the land, control the majority of the wealth, and resist attempted at the redistribution of land, wealth, and political power.

From 1961 to 1979 Carney was a missionary priest in Honduras.  He, devoted to Our Lady of Guadeloupe, preferred that the peasants (campesinos) among whom he ministered call him “Padre Guadeloupe.”  Our saint, not content to stop at administering sacraments, became a social and political revolutionary for justice.  He identified with the peasants and lived as they did.  He became active in the peasants’ union, advocated for land reform, became a Honduran citizen, and came to identify as a “Marxist-Christian.”  He criticized the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Honduras for their close relationship with the United Fruit Company, which paid far below a living wage, thereby exacerbating poverty.  Our saint also condemned U.S. imperialism in Latin America.

Carney, after spending a few weeks at St. Louis University in 1979, moved to Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas had recently deposed Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the U.S.-backed dictator.  After spending a few years as a member of a revolutionary society, Carney decided to return to Honduras.  Doing so was dangerous.  The U.S.-supported government there arrested or executed alleged subversives–including leftists, liberals, and union activists.  Death squads were active in the Honduran Army.  This was the government that, according to U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983, was promoting democracy.  The Honduran government was not promoting democracy while murdering or arresting its politically troublesome citizens.  It was, however, providing a base of operations for the U.S.-backed, anti-Sandinista Contras.

Carney, who resigned from the Society of Jesus in June 1983, had become a committed revolutionary.  He regarded the wealth of the Vatican with disgust and recoiled at bourgeois Christians who supported causes he considered antithetical to the faith.  His pacifism was gone; some violence was sadly necessary, Carney understood.

On July 19, 1983, Carney returned to Honduras as the chaplain to a small band of guerrillas.  The Honduran Army captured or killed the unit quickly; Carney disappeared.  There were, over the years, various proposed fates for Padre Guadeloupe.  The most likely one was that, on Friday, September 19, 1983, the Honduran Army, having tortured Carney, threw him out of a helicopter above a mountain.  Perhaps the priest died when he hit the ground.

Officially, nobody recovered Carney’s physical remains–just his stole and chalice.

Carney’s family has attempted to learn of his fate and what the U.S. Government knows about it.  A federal judge, citing national security, dismissed a lawsuit.  Requests under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed answers, but mostly indirectly.  In 1999 the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) released many pages of documentation; 75 of those pages were entirely blacked out.  Members of the the family have also had good reasons to suspect that the federal government has tapped their telephones.

The truth of the matter seems clear, especially considering the many redactions and the appeals to national security:  The Honduran Army executed Carney with the support of the U.S. Government, which does not want to admit this.

Carney, in his 1983 autobiography, “The Metamorphosis of a Revolutionary,” wrote:

Since my novitiate, I have asked Christ for the Grace to be able to imitate him, even to martyrdom, to the giving of my life, to being killed for the cause of Christ.  And I strongly believe that Christ might give me this tremendous Grace to become a martyr for justice.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 404-405

The United States of America is, unlike many other nation-states, a country founded on high ideals, which the U.S. Government and society has a long record of trampling, unfortunately.  Human nature makes no exceptions because of U.S. citizenship.  When my country is at its best, it seeks to live those ideals, embodied most nobly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, especially the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case of James Carney’s fate and the subsequent cover-up of U.S. Government knowledge of if poses a difficult question:  If a government founded on high ideals consistently makes a mockery of them, how are citizens supposed to respond to that hypocrisy?

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God of the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless,

we confess our sins, which we have committed either in knowledge or ignorance,

and which have harmed those less fortunate, many of them far away.

We acknowledge that, despite our best intentions,

we are complicit in the sins of our society, governments, institutions, and corporations.

We have the blood of innocents, many of whom we will never encounter, on our hands.

As we praise you and thank you for the moral courage of Father James Carney to take up his cross and follow Christ,

we also pray that you will forgive us and grant us the necessary grace

to confess and repent of our sins, and to act, as you lead us, to help the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless.

We pray through Jesus of Nazareth, executed unjustly as a criminal and a threat to imperial security.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Amos 8:4-8

Psalm 15

Revelation 18:9-20

Luke 6:20-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMNODIST; AND HIS NEPHEW, JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, III, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH PAYSON PRENTISS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMY TAYLOR, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DOWN, CONNOR, AND DROMORE

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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This is post #1600 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

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