Martha Hennessy’s Sentencing Statement, Nov. 13, 2020

Dear Judge Wood,
I have thought long and hard and prayed about how to convey the reality of my nonviolent, sacramental action against nuclear weapons at Kings Bay Naval Base. I stand here as a result of my religious conviction that calls me to point out that nuclear weapons are illegal and to uphold the rule of law in the US Constitution, Article 6, Section 2: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

In the months before I was born in July 1955, Operation Teapot conducted 14 open air tests from February to April. I carry the nuclear contamination in my body.

I am attempting to help transform the fundamental values of public life. I am willing to suffer for the common good and for our sin of not loving our brothers and sisters, a condition that leads to war. War stems from our unwillingness to love one another as Christ has loved us. This is what the Bomb represents to me. And the great scandal is that the vast majority of these weapons are in the hands of white Christians, the United States and Russia. I am sorry that my faith has prodded me to take such action, putting my family and community through hardships these past few years. But faith requires hardship as we see with Christ on the Cross. In my remorse over the misunderstanding over our peaceful messaging at the naval base, I continue to reflect on the meaning of it. My discernment continues even with this sentencing statement. I am remorseful that we have created nuclear bombs and it was very difficult for me to enter that military base. I am sorry to have embarrassed the personnel. I have no plans of repeating another Plowshares disarmament, even as such an action has called me to demonstrate my love for humanity. I feel I have done my part to the best of my ability; I have brought my grievance to my government. Our testimony during trial has had a profound impact on many Catholics despite the fact that we were not allowed expert witnesses or any meaningful defense. We are to live by example, to be indignant over the rejection of God’s love. We spurn God’s love and misplace it when we rely on nuclear weapons to force our will on the globe.

Every freedom of expression, right of assembly, and petition of grievance that I have participated in over the years was nonviolent and purposed for the upholding of the rule of law. The issues I have addressed include torture used on prisoners at Guantanamo, and the killing of civilians with drones. I have taken personal responsibility to advocate for changing questionably moral behaviors on the part of the US military to the extent that I am able. The breaking of an unjust law such as the secrecy and protection of our nuclear weapons system was prompted by my conscience. I have used my free will and primacy of conscience to choose obedience to the protection of every living thing. I have attempted to practice the “councils of perfection”, that is in reference to the teachings of Christ, to do more than the minimum, to aim for Christian perfection, as much as that can be obtained here upon earth.

My participation in community, care of the poor, and my Catholic faith led to my discernment process for participating in nuclear disarmament. It is our obligation to speak out when we feel our faith is being violated when we are forced to accept, pay for, and worship the nuclear arsenal and its intended use against other nations, cities, and people despite the treaties that work to prevent such a holocaust. Last year Pope Francis visited the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He stated; “The use of nuclear weapons is immoral, which is why it must be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Not only their use, but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.” This year marks the 75th anniversary of dropping the bomb. We remain unaccountable for our war crimes.

Dear Judge, I hope you can have a change of heart and begin to understand what is at stake here for those who are on the losing end of our economic system. I have attempted to lead a moral and productive life in my volunteer work, professional career of occupational therapy, scripture study, and care of my family. I am willing to go to prison as penance for our collective sins of practicing violence, war making, and forcing deprivation against the vast majority of people in this world. God delights in EVERY human birth here on earth and expects us to protect all life. All human beings are members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ.

We must also take into consideration the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that has now been ratified by 50 countries and will become law as of January 22, 2021. Nuclear weapons are outlawed. Will our country disregard this rule of law? There actually is no law protecting the nuclear bombs. During the trial one of our jurors asked the question, “Are there nuclear weapons on the base?” The facts of that question went unanswered.

I don’t want our action to be trivialized, to be reduced to “breaking and entering” when my efforts are to bring a message of love and sanity to the world. Our nonviolent, sacramental action was found by the court to be a religious exercise. I quote from my declaration regarding my faith-based action:

“Going to the Trident nuclear submarine and missile base is similar to Jesus taking direct action against the moneychangers in the Temple.
‘Take these out of here and stop making my Father’s house a market-place.’ (John 2:16). Our nuclear arsenal is a theft from the hungry; it is economically and environmentally bankrupt, and legally and morally indefensible. Jesus preached to the poor and most of the world’s population remains poor. My Christian faith instructs me not to rely on these deadly weapons but to make visible and practice our dependence on God and love for one another. Despite my fear I entered the military base as an act of faith, hope, and love.”

I have no criminal intent; I want to help prevent another nuclear holocaust. The spirit of the law contained in international treaties for disarmament is very clear, to prevent mass murder on an incomprehensible scale. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday clock is set at 100 seconds to midnight. I see my grandchildren’s faces in that clock. We must all do our part to uphold the rule of law. I am called as a Christian to serve others. Practicing the works of mercy in caring for the poor is a spiritual discipline. My opposition to war comes from the Gospel of Life that peace is a good to be pursued out of respect for human life. Today’s wars cannot protect the lives of civilians, and nuclear war cannot practice proportionality. In the 1980s German judges blocked the roads to nuclear weapons sites the US has located there. They were trying to atone for the lack of having taken a stronger stand against Hitler 40 years previously.

I pray for mercy from this court and from you Judge Wood. I beg for the soul of Christianity to be saved from the seductions of Empire, and to allow for the flowering of our kinship of faith. In these times of dire economic conditions for millions of US citizens, we can no longer afford to feed this massive war machine.

Here I share words from Japanese survivors of the atom bomb:

A six-year-old boy remembers Hiroshima:
“Near the bridge there were a whole lot of dead people. There were some who were burned black and died, and there were others with huge burns who died with their skins bursting. Sometimes there were ones who came to us asking for a drink of water. They were bleeding from their faces and from their mouths and they had glass sticking in their bodies. And the bridge itself was burning furiously. The details and the scenes were just like Hell.”
A fifth grade girl:
“Everybody in the shelter was crying out loud. Those voices…they weren’t cries, they were moans that penetrated to the marrow of my bones and made my hair stand on end…I do not know how many times I called begging that they would cut off my burned arms and legs.”
And a young woman:
“We gathered the dead bodies and made big mountains of the dead and put oil on them and burned them. And people who were unconscious woke up in the piles of the dead when they found themselves burning and came running out.”
As a Christian I can’t bear inflicting this kind of pain and injustice on innocent people. As St. Paul stated in Acts 22, “I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

We must pay attention to the primacy of the Spiritual. We must recognize the spirit of the law. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means we will try to be peacemakers. Thank you.

Martha gives a short reflection on her sentencing: