After hailing the Marxist-flavored brand of "liberation theology" Catholicism in Latin America on its front page May 24, the New York Times demonstrated more strange new respect for religion, at least of the left-wing variety, with an adulatory, critic-free profile by William Broad in Thursday's paper of Sister Megan Rice. Rice was imprisoned for sabotage for breaking into a uranium-enriching facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. and splattering the building "with blood and antiwar slogans," which the online headline benignly terms "anti-nuclear activism."
"2 Years in Prison Behind Her, Nun, 85, Looks Ahead to More Activism," included an enormous (and uninteresting) photo of the elderly sister in an article that dominated two-thirds of the print page.
For more than a year, Sister Megan Rice, 85, a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, had caught occasional glimpses of the glittering World Trade Center from her living quarters: the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison on the Brooklyn waterfront.
So when the Volvo she was riding in one morning last week crested the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the skyscraper came into full view, it made a strong impression.
“Oh, my gosh,” Sister Rice exclaimed. Drinking in the scenery and the panorama of New York Harbor, she added, “We’re well on our way.”
It was her fifth day of freedom after two years behind bars for a crime for which she is boldly unapologetic. In 2012, she joined two other peace activists in splattering blood and antiwar slogans on a nuclear plant in Tennessee that holds enough highly enriched uranium to make thousands of nuclear warheads. All three were convicted and sent to prison. But on May 8, an appellate court ruled that the government had overreached in charging them with sabotage, and ordered them set free.
Since her release on May 16, Sister Rice, a Manhattan native, had been reconnecting with family and friends, as well as seeing doctors, lawyers and reporters. She took time to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and she made her first purchase: peanut butter frozen yogurt topped with hot fudge.
Now, dressed in a sweatsuit that fellow inmates had given her, the nun was traveling to the American headquarters of her order in Rosemont, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. The agenda was to confer with her superiors about her future – one in which she plans to continue her antinuclear activism. One threat was that the federal government might challenge the recent ruling and try to have her thrown back in prison.
“It would be an honor,” Sister Rice said during the ride. “Good Lord, what would be better than to die in prison for the antinuclear cause?”
Her family and friends seemed slightly agog at her fiery commitment and rabble-rousing energy after so much time in jail.
Rice, a veteran of the Plowshares movement, has committed several of what Broad, a science reporter, termed "acts of civil disobedience," that included blocking other nuclear test sites.
As the Volvo sped through Pennsylvania, she explained the purpose of her meeting at Rosemont. After Sister Rice’s conviction, Sister Mary Ann Buckley, the leader of the religious order’s American arm, had issued a statement saying the order intended to “stand behind Sister Megan” and the Catholic Church’s “clear teaching” against the proliferation of nuclear arms.
The meeting, Sister Rice said, was “to figure out what we can look forward to this year.” The order, she added, was founded on the philosophy that the nuns would meet the wants of their time.
“If you can show that,” she added, “there’s no problem. That’s why I had no qualms. I had a mission.”
After mentioning an appearance on (of course) the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, Broad offered the lamest possible devil's advocacy.
Asked about critics who advocate peace through strength, Sister Rice conceded that nuclear arms did have a certain power of intimidation. But she insisted that the United States, by keeping a vast arsenal, was violating its global disarmament pledges and ultimately courting disaster.
As the Volvo sped along the New Jersey Turnpike, Sister Rice joined in a conference call with the Plowshares team. A group of what seemed to be six or seven people talked for a half-hour about the opportunities that the release of Sister Rice and her two accomplices had presented and about the possibility of public activities in August marking the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Broad took the side of the radicals in his reporting on "good news":
As it turned out, that same day brought good news. In Cincinnati, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit gave federal prosecutors more time to decide whether to challenge the overturning of the three protesters’ sabotage convictions. Their new deadline is June 22.
For now, at least, Sister Rice is a free woman.