Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

March 10, 2002


Thanks to all the folks who showed up, especially my seven brother priests who were there. It was a small courtroom, so the twenty-five friends and supporters who showed up had no trouble filling it. I had enough time before the trial to hug and thank each person who came for support. Special thanks to the Catholic Workers who came from Columbia, Missouri and for Fr. Jack Kissling, my dear friend and campus minister from University of Northern Iowa days. He traveled from Wisconsin to be with us, and a big thanks to Chuck Hannan who represented both Eddy and me before the court.

I must confess, Federal Magistrate Judge Jaudzemis was a surprise. She was "matter of fact" throughout the proceedings, never once sharing a personal thought or opinion. She allowed me to read my entire "long-winded" statement, and they proceeded to sentence me to six months without comment. My sister, Dee Dee, who was for support said it was because of all the priests who were in the courtroom that the judge had nothing to say. Iím not sure. Iím not complaining either.

As I left the courtroom I could hear Carla Dawsonís ringing voice blessing me on my way. Thank you, Carla, and the rest of the Des Moines Catholic Workers who were there. Knowing that my community will be back in Des Moines doing the day in and day out works of mercies makes my time in captivity all the easier. I love you all..

Pottawattamie County Jail

At the moment, Iím holed up at the Pottawattamie County jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Life is filled with ironies. When I was an associate pastor at St. Patrickís in Council Bluffs, I tried getting into this jail to do jail ministry. The sheriff refused to let me minister because I was an unrepentant law-breaker. He was right, and now they canít keep me out.

This is a new jail, but oh so familiar. Iím in a two tier mode with twenty-two two-man cells, a day room with a television, phones, plastic tables and chairs, showers, a small recreation area, and a small classroom for religious programs and AA meetings. There are also two visiting booths for each mode in which visits are done by way of a video-television. I donít like it. Itís even more removed than having a visit through a plastic glass window over a phone. The food ainít the worst Iíve had. Orange is still the color of our clothing but with two piece suits rather than one-piece. Once the guys figure out who I am, they are friendly. Many are taking the opportunity to share their stories and ask for prayers. I will not be in want for priestly work.

No telling how long I will be here. It could be just for a few days or for the whole six months. Time will tell. [Editorís note: Frank called from a facility in Leavenworth. He had thought he was headed for South Dakota, but now he is in Kansas. You may write him. Send mail to:

Frank Cordaro
Corrections Corporation of America, Inc.
100 Highway Terrace
Leavenworth, KS 66048

He has no idea how long he will be there.]

March 24, 2002

Fr. Frank Cordaro Reflections

Palm Sunday 2002

Pottawattamie County Jail


The bulk of Jesusí public life was lived out in the political arena. His message, spiritual as it was, had far-reaching political consequences for the disciples chose to follow him. It put them into direct conflict with the established political systems of their day.

The political nature of Jesusí way is very apparent in the gospel accounts of the last days of his life. These accounts reveal an outline of what a non-violent resistance campaign might look like. The first action of any non-violent campaign is the non-violent, direct action itself. In the telling of the life of Jesus this begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was a major street demonstration with obvious political overtures. Any Jewish, itinerant, radical, reformer preacher who allowed himself to be the focus of a major street demonstration in Jerusalem during Passover in which the crowed hailed him as the Son of David would know that the Roman and ruling elite would see him as a clear and present political threat. According to the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus follows the street demonstration remembered in our Palm Sunday worship with the cleansing of the Templeóa contemporary Plow Share action. This non-violent criminal act sealed his political fate.

These actions initiated by Jesus were moments of confrontation and active non-violent resistance to the violent and unjust systems of his day. Any moment when truth is spoken in word and deed to the powers that be is a parallel event of this example of Jesus. This is the source and inspiration of non-violent, symbolic action.

The second action of any non-violent resistance campaign is the inevitable and violent reprisal by the powers that be. In Jesusí case, it was a combination of the local Jewish authorities and the Romans who set a trap, arrested him, tried him, found him guilty, and nailed him to a cross.

There is nothing really unique about the first two steps of a non-violent, resistance campaign. History holds similar movements for social reform and justice from the bottom up. Often those seeking justice in a just cause who experience a violent reprisal from the entrenched, violent status quo, feel themselves justified in resorting to violent means to justify their cause. This is the rationale for what might be called redemptive violence. The problem with this approach is that the violence used for a just cause takes on a life of itself, creating a circular and never-ending rationale for violence. What begins today as a bottom up struggle for a just cause ends up as tomorrowís on-going rationalizations for violent, base status quo. One has only to look at our own national mythology and listen to President Bushís rhetoric or our so-called war on terrorism to see this faulty thinking acted out.