Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen, who once urged Catholics in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, to reconsider their employment at a nuclear weapons factory in his diocese, has been named the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award winner.
Writing in 1981 in The West Texas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, Bishop Matthiesen urged people to seek peaceful employment. His call came after President Ronald Reagan announced that Pantex, the factory outside of Amarillo where all of the country’s nuclear weapons were assembled, would begin assembling neutron bombs.
The bishop, who turns 88 June 11 and has been retired since 1997, recalled to Catholic News Service how he was denounced for his stance, especially when jobs were in high need during the deep recession of the early 1980s. But he said he was motivated by his desire for the world to live in peace.
“I always agreed with Cardinal (Joseph) Bernardin about this consistent ethic of life, that we shouldn’t just focus on the neutron bomb, that we shouldn’t just focus on abortion, that we shouldn’t just focus on the death penalty or the abolition of torture,” he said. “It’s beginning with the right to life at the very beginning, not ending there, but to have that consistent ethic of life.”
At the time his action heartened the Catholic peace movement. Soon, his fellow Texas bishops joined his call. The U.S. bishops also were influenced as they deliberated on and finally adopted their 1983 pastoral letter on the nuclear arms race, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.”
Bishop Matthiesen will receive the award during Pax Christi USA’s annual national conference on peacemaking July 17-19 in Chicago.