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The Trial of the Catonsville Nine$

Daniel Berrigan

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780823223305

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823223305.001.0001

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The Day of the Verdict

The Day of the Verdict

(p.109) 5 The Day of the Verdict
The Trial of the Catonsville Nine

Daniel Berrigan

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents a script from the play, Trial of the Catonsville Nine, featuring statements from the defendants prior to the announcement of the verdict.

Keywords:   Catholic activists, Catonsville, defendants, trials

(p.110) (p.111)

JUDGE I want to hear the defendants. I do not want to cut them off from anything they may want to say. Mr. Melville, will you begin?


  • Your honor, we feel that the overriding issue in the case has been obscured by the treatment given us. If our intention was to destroy government records, we could very easily have gone in at nighttime and taken the files out and burned them.
  • As it was, we went in the middle of the day, and, after burning the files, waited for fifteen minutes until the police came, to give public witness to what we did.
  • Our intention was to speak to our country, to the conscience of our people.
  • Now, during these few days we have been in this court in an attempt to speak to the conscience of the American people. We feel that the twelve jurors have heard all kinds of legal arguments, which I suppose they must hear. But we feel that the overriding issue has been obscured. You have sent the jury out—to judge whether we committed the acts which we admitted from the beginning that we had committed.

  • The jury are not the representatives of the American people. Also, nobody has cut you down on the evidence you wanted to present. You have made your case in public.
  • (p.112) It is quite true that I have not submitted to the jury the question you would like to have submitted, in a way you would like. I have told the jury if they find that you intended to burn the records and hinder the draft board, then it was immaterial that you had other good purposes. And it was immaterial how sincere you were and how right you may ultimately be judged by history.
  • I am not questioning the morality of what you did.
  • I disagree with the theory of law which you are presenting and which was argued very eloquently by your counsel, as far as I would permit him to do it. I cannot allow somebody to argue something which is entirely contrary to the law. That would be to ask the jury to disregard their oath. I cannot allow that.
  • If you had gone to Catonsville and taken one file under some token arrangement, you might have had something to argue. But you went out and burned 378 files, according to your own admission. And every one of you, I think, said that you did it in order to hinder the operation of the draft.
  • I am not questioning the highness of your motive. I think that one must admire a person who is willing to suffer for his beliefs. But people who are going to violate the law in order to make a point must expect to be convicted.

  • Your honor, we are not arguing from a purely legal standpoint. We are arguing to you as an American, with your obligations to society, to those jurors as Americans and in their obligations to our society.
  • If it is only a question of whether we committed this act or not, we feel it would be better if the jury is dismissed. We can save ourselves a lot of time and money by receiving an immediate sentence from you.
  • JUDGE Mr. Mische next.


    GEORGE MISCHE My question, your honor, concerns conscience. Did you tell the jury they could not act according to their conscience?

    JUDGE I did not mention conscience.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

    JUDGE I said this to the defense: If you attempt to argue that the jury has the power to decide this case on the basis of conscience, the court will interrupt and tell the jury of their duty.


    ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’

    I did not talk about conscience. I do not mind saying that this is the first time the question of conscience has been raised in this court.

    GEORGE MISCHE But was the jury told they could not use their conscience in determining—

    JUDGE I certainly did not tell them they could disregard their oath and let you off on sympathy, or because they thought you were sincere people.

    DANIEL BERRIGAN Your honor, we are having great difficulty in trying to adjust to the atmosphere of a court from which the world is excluded, and the events that brought us here are excluded deliberately, by the charge to the jury.

    JUDGE They were not excluded. The question—



  • May I continue? Our moral passion was excluded. It is as though we were subjects of an autopsy, were being dismembered by people who wondered whether or not we had a soul. We are sure that we have a soul. It is our soul that brought us here. It is our soul that got us in trouble. It is our conception of man.
  • But our moral passion is banished from this court. It is as though the legal process were an autopsy.

  • Well, I cannot match your poetic language.
  • (Applause from the audience.)
  • Any further demonstration and the court will be cleared. And I mean that, the whole crowd.
  • Father Berrigan, you made your points on the stand, very persuasively. I admire you as a poet. But I think you simply do not understand the function of a court.
  • DANIEL BERRIGAN I am sure that is true.


  • You admitted that you went to Catonsville with a purpose which requires your conviction. You wrote your purpose down in advance. Your counsel stood and boasted of it. Now I happen to have a job in which I am bound by an oath of office.
  • If you had done this thing in many countries of the world, you would not be standing here. You would have been in your coffins long ago. Now, nobody is going to draw and quarter you. You may be convicted by the jury; and if you are, I certainly propose to give you every opportunity to say what you want.

  • Your honor, you spoke very movingly of your understanding of what it is to be a judge. I wish to ask whether or not reverence for the law does not also require a judge to interpret and adjust the law to the needs of people (p.115) here and now. I believe that no tradition can remain a mere dead inheritance. It is a living inheritance which we must continue to offer to the living.
  • So it may be possible, even though the law excludes certain important questions of conscience, to include them none the less; and thereby, to bring the tradition to life again for the sake of the people.
  • JUDGE Well, I think there are two answers to that. You speak to me as a man and as a judge. As a man, I would be a very funny sort if I were not moved by your sincerity on the stand, and by your views. I agree with you completely, as a person. We can never accomplish what we would like to accomplish, or give a better life to people, if we are going to keep on spending so much money for war. But a variety of circumstances makes it most difficult to have your point of view presented. It is very unfortunate, but the issue of the war cannot be presented as sharply as you would like. The basic principle of our law is that we do things in an orderly fashion. People cannot take the law into their own hands.

    DANIEL BERRIGAN You are including our President in that assertion.

    JUDGE Of course, the President must obey the law.

    THOMAS LEWIS He hasn't though.

    JUDGE If the President has not obeyed the law, there is very little that can be done.

    GEORGE MISCHE And that is what this trial is all about. …

    DANIEL BERRIGAN Your honor, you have referred to the war question as one which may be either political or legal. Suppose it were considered as a question of life and death. Could that be appropriately raised here?


    JUDGE Well, again, that is poetic speech. I am not sure what the legal proposition is. I understand why it seems a matter of life and death to you. Of course, the war is a matter of life and death to all boys who are in it. It is a matter of life and death to people in Vietnam.


  • Your honor, I think you said previously that you had a great deal of respect for the law and the Constitution of the United States.
  • I would like to call this respect into question, if you are unwilling to do anything about a war which is in violation of our legal tradition and the United States Constitution.
  • JUDGE Well, I understand your point. But I cannot appoint you either my legal or spiritual adviser.

    GEORGE MISCHE We have people from the peace movement here. Will you, then, allow them to file in your court, calling into question the entire Vietnam war; and will you be willing to review the charge in its entirety? Whatever decision you make then can be submitted to the Supreme Court.

    JUDGE But you have to have a case—

    GEORGE MISCHE You have to break a law first.

    JUDGE —that can be brought in court.

    GEORGE MISCHE You have to break a law. It seems that, before we can get a judge to face the situation, you have to break a law, as Dr. King found.

    JUDGE If you had gotten legal advice, I am sure you would have been advised that there are better ways to raise this question than the way you raised it at Catonsville.



  • Your honor, one question:
  • I have been called an honest and just man in this courtroom. I appreciate that. But the reality is that I leave this room in chains. I am taken back to prison. How do you explain this?

  • Good character is not a defense for breaking the law. That is the only way I can explain it.

  • Your honor, the instructions you gave to the jury bound them to the narrow letter of the law. And a verdict according to the spirit of the law was strictly prohibited.
  • It is my feeling that the spirit of the law is important, particularly in American legal tradition and in American life. It is the spirit which counts.
  • JUDGE I am not God almighty. I did what the law required me to do. All we can do is our best. …


  • Your honor, I think that we would be less than honest with you if we did not state our attitude. Simply, we have lost confidence in the institutions of this country, including our own churches.
  • I think this has been a rational process on our part. We have come to our conclusion slowly and painfully. We have lost confidence, because we do not believe any longer that these institutions are reformable.
  • JUDGE Well, if you are saying that you are advocating revolution—

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

    Whenever the ends of government are perverted and public liberty manifestly endangered and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to, reform (p.118) the old or establish a new government. The doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.


    ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ’


  • I am saying merely this:
  • We see no evidence that the institutions of this country, including our own churches, are able to provide the type of change that justice calls for, not only in this country, but around the world.
  • We believe that this has occurred because law is no longer serving the needs of the people; which is a pretty good definition of morality.
  • JUDGE I can understand how you feel. I think the only difference between us is that I believe the institutions can do what you believe they cannot do.

    PHILIP BERRIGAN Our question remains: How much time is left this country, as our casualties inch upward, as Vietnamese casualties mount every day? And nuclear war is staring us in the face. That is the question we are concerned about: man's survival.

    JUDGE I assure you I am concerned about your question, for my grandchildren, as well as for everybody else. It is a serious thing.

    GEORGE MISCHE Change could come if one judge would rule on the war. If one judge would act, the war could not continue as it does.

    (p.119) JUDGE I think you misunderstand the organization of the United States. One judge ruling on it would not end the war. Each judge must do his best with what comes before him. …


  • We want to thank you, your honor; I speak for the others. But we do not want the edge taken off what we have tried to say, by any implication that we are seeking mercy in this Court. We welcome the rigors of the Court.
  • Our intention in appearing here after Catonsville was to be useful to the poor of the world, to the Black people of the world and of our country, and to those in our prisons who have no voice.
  • We do not wish that primary blade of intention to be honed down to no edge at all by a gentleman's agreement, whereby you agree with us and we with you. We do not agree with you, and we thank you.
  • JUDGE All right.

    DANIEL BERRIGAN Could we finish with a prayer? Would that be against your wishes? We would like to recite the “Our Father” with our friends.


  • The Court has no objection whatsoever, and rather welcomes the idea.
  • (Whereupon, at this point in the proceedings, those who wished to do so stood and joined in prayer.)

  • (After 1½ hours) I have just received a note from the foreman. The jury has concluded its deliberations and is ready to report its findings. The jury will come in now, and the clerk will take the verdict.
  • There must be no demonstrations from the audience. If there are, I may clear the room, or I may instruct the (p.120) marshal to take appropriate action with respect to any recalcitrants.
  • (Whereupon at this point the jury was brought into the courtroom, and the following proceedings were had.)

  • The taking of the verdict in Criminal Action No. 28111, the United States of America against Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, Thomas Lewis, James Darst, John Hogan, Marjorie Melville, Thomas Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan.
  • Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant John Hogan guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted?
  • THE FOREMAN We find John Hogan guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant Marjorie Melville guilty of the matters whereof she stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Marjorie Melville guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant Thomas Melville guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Thomas Melville guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant George Mische guilty or not guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted?

    THE FOREMAN We find George Mische guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant (p.121) Mary Moylan guilty of the matters whereof she stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Mary Moylan guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant Philip Berrigan guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Philip Berrigan guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant Daniel Berrigan guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Daniel Berrigan guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant Thomas Lewis guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find Thomas Lewis guilty.

    THE CLERK Members of the jury, what say you: Is the defendant James Darst guilty of the matters whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?

    THE FOREMAN We find James Darst guilty.


  • Members of the jury, you have just found Jesus Christ guilty.
  • (Commotion in court. Similar outbursts from other members of the audience.)

  • Marshals, clear the coutroom.
  • (p.122) (Whereupon, at this point the courtroom was slowly cleared.)
  • JUDGE Now, is there anything further that the government or the defendants wish brought to the attention of the court?

    DANIEL BERRIGAN We would simply like to thank the Court and the prosecution. We agree that this is the greatest day of our lives.



    • Everything before was a great lie.
    • Illusion, distemper, the judges eye
    • Negro and Jew for rigorists.
    • The children die
    • Singing in the furnace. In Hell they say
    • Heaven is a great lie.
    • Years, years ago
    • My mother moves in youth. In her
    • I move, too, to birth, to youth, to this.
    • The judge's tic-toc is time's steel hand
    • Summoning
    • Come priest to the temple. Everything else
    • Is a great lie. Four walls, home, youth
    • Truth untried, all all is a great lie.
    • The truth
    • The judge shuts in his two eyes
    • Come Jesuit, the university cannot
    • No nor the universe, nor murdered Jesus
    • Imagine. Imagine! Everything before
    • Was a great lie.
    • Philip; your freedom, stature
    • Simplicity, the ghetto where the children
    • Malinger, die.
    • Judge Thomsen, strike with a hot hammer
    • The hour, the truth. The truth has birth
    • All former truth must die. Everything
    • Beforefaith, hope, love itself
    • Was a great lie.

    Daniel Berrigan (p.124)