Controversial Priest Tends Larger Flock

Rev. John Dear’s peacemaker heroes — Christ, Gandhi, the Rev. Martin
Luther King, Mister Rogers, Cesar Chavez — grace the walls of his rental
The activist Jesuit’s refrigerator also is plastered with nonviolence
reminders, including a Mahatma quote:
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Dear — a controversial priest known for standing up against the Iraq
War, lecturing National Guard members to lay down their weapons and trying
to protest at Los Alamos National Laboratory — gave up his three northern
New Mexico parishes in May.
No longer connected with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Dear is devoting
his time to writing and lecturing — with an occasional protest.
“I see the whole country as my parish now,” says Dear, 44, sitting
outside his modest home in a scenic but remote location between Albuquerque
and Santa Fe .
He lives miles from a paved road, partly because he received more than
100 hate-mails since moving to New Mexico in 2002.
Dear says neither the negative notes, nor Archbishop Michael Sheehan,
forced him out of his three parishes.
Instead, Dear says he was “doing too much. That’s why I stepped down.”
He says he simply wore out his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame with nonstop
At one time, he was attending to hundreds of Catholics’ needs at
different parishes while writing several books and flying out of Albuquerque
to speak before audiences of about 500 people.
Besides racking up thousands of frequent flier miles, he drove his green
SUV about 50,000 miles each year, serving his parishes in Cimarron , Springer
and Maxwell.
Dear also served an Eagle Nest parish during his first year in New
Mexico . The archbishop relieved the priest of his duties in May 2003 at St.
Mel’s after parishioners claimed his anti-war sermons stirred up a hornet’s
Writing and speaking
An author and editor of more than 20 books, he will have three books
published this year. Of those, he is most proud of “The Questions of Jesus,”
a Doubleday publication containing meditations on about 150 questions Christ
asked but never answered.
Currently, he is working on six more books.
Dear’s upcoming speaking schedule includes Grantham , Pa. ; Boise , Idaho ;
Memphis , Tenn. ; Albany , N.Y. ; Ontario , Canada , and Milwaukee .
He says his Jesuit superior suggested he travel America , “talking about
nonviolence and the duty of all Christians to work for peace and justice.”
Last year, the archdiocese did not allow Dear to attend the Pax Christi
Peace Vigil in Los Alamos .
Since he is no longer a pastor, however, Dear is free to attend the
prayer vigil Aug. 6 and speak out against the lab, which designs nuclear
weapons. It marks the date in 1945 when the United States dropped an atomic
bomb on Hiroshima , Japan .
“What I’m trying to do through the church is raise ethical questions
about these weapons of mass destruction here in New Mexico ,” Dear says from
his porch, with a high desert view where only the cawing of a crow can be
“What does it mean for us as a people in New Mexico and as Americans that
we are the ones who manufacture them, maintain them and threaten to use
Making headlines
Dear made headlines last year after calling the Los Alamos lab immoral
and demonic and telling members of a National Guard unit to put down their
weapons and refuse to go to war with Iraq .
The latter controversy caught the attention of filmmaker Michael Moore.
Dear says at one time Moore considered including the encounter in his
contentious movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Dear says that when peacemakers ask why the warmakers are killing poor
people, they are labeled anti-American and worse names.
He says that calling for an end to the making of weapons of mass
destruction is like Christ’s throwing the money changers out of the temple.
He says WMDs “are not the will of God. God did not create the world to
blow it up, to vaporize people …
“There’s a growing movement of ordinary Americans who say enough is
enough. These weapons are not making us safer but taking away from real
human needs.”
Dear says it “was hard to leave” his Eagle Nest, Springer, Cimarron and
Maxwell parishioners.
Sister Hildegarde Smith, a nun for 63 years who worked with Dear, says,
“Father John was preaching the Gospel and he is a true follower of Jesus.”
Katherine Behrendsen, a member of the Cimarron parish council, says Dear
was accepted by most of Immaculate Conception Church’s members.
She says his way of preaching about the war in Iraq “opened up my eyes
… just to be more compassionate about others. We miss him…”