By Bette McDevitt
Rev. Dordal is a member of the Thomas Merton Center and a coordinator of the Stop Banking the Bomb Campaign, which is targeting PNC Bank’s investments in nuclear weapons manufacturers. The following is an interview of Rev. Dordal.
Q: Please tell us a little about your background. What churches have you been associated with, what led you to seek that further training in Catholic theology, and then, what it meant to be a chaplain in the Army, and were you in a chaplain in Iraq?
A: I was raised in a Roman Catholic home in NYC, but in my teenage years, I strayed from my faith. It wasn’t until I was 31, in 1995, that I had a dramatic epiphany and returned to faith in Jesus. I discerned a call to the ministry, but I first was ordained as a Protestant minister. Upon redeploying from Iraq in 2010, I decided to return to my Catholic roots and joined an Eastern rite Catholic Church. Studying under a bishop for several years and studying Catholic theology at Duquesne University prepared me for my current vocation as an Eastern-rite priest.
As for my chaplaincy in the U.S. Army, it was at first a noble endeavor. I sincerely believed there was a great need for spiritual support of soldiers going to war. Nevertheless, it was while serving in Iraq during the war that my eyes were opened. I began to question my own moral convictions about my military service, but more importantly, I came to believe that US military involvement, not only in Iraq but all around the world, was also gravely immoral.
Q: What was it that made you become an anti-war activist, and a very public one, willing to do civil disobedience?
A: Seeing first-hand the devastation of war on so many innocents in Iraq and also [my time] studying at Duquesne University sharpened my theological convictions about the senselessness and immorality of war. Additionally, I came to recognize that I could not only “believe” in nonviolence, but I had a moral responsibility to act publicly on those convictions.
Q: In your online bio, you mention the “revolutionary Jesus.” Our readers might like to know if that plays a large part in this decision.
A: Absolutely! I had a second sort of epiphany after Iraq, and I recognized that Jesus’s life was a ministry of radical confrontation of empire and its systems of violence and injustice. Jesus did not come only to die a spiritual death on behalf of all people, but his sacrifice was the revolutionary beginning of a whole new way of being human and ordering society. Now, this beloved Kin-dom of God (Paul’s own phrase) that Jesus proclaimed in word and deed is our responsibility to enact, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This means that as a Christian, I must intentionally confront the evils of empire, especially the U.S. empire with its 800+ military bases, thousands of nuclear missiles and, most dangerously, its evil system of imperial capitalism that perpetuates violence and oppression in our world.
Q: How did you come to the Merton Center to work for peace?
A: A few years ago, when I decided to follow my convictions of becoming a peacemaker, I joined Veterans For Peace (VFP). However, there was no active VFP chapter in Pittsburgh at the time, so I made my way to the Thomas Merton Center and joined the Anti-War Committee. There I found kindred spirits, both Christian and non-Christian alike, who had the same passion to bring peace and justice to our hurting world.
Q: I would guess that finding so many people sharing your concern and supporting your action has been encouraging, and would you comment on that?
As a full-time hospital chaplain, I do not have a local parish that I am a part of. In many ways members of the Merton Center, Veterans For Peace, and other people from the wonderful justice groups that I am connected to have become a “church” community to and with me. Maybe it could be called Church on the Way.
Sometimes, when I think that our work is too daunting and the struggle too hard, I look to people like Joyce Rothermel, Edith Bell, Michael Drohan, and other Merton Center members who have been doing this work for many years and I say, “That’s me. I am in this for the long haul.” Also, I keep this Spanish liberation theology phrase in mind: Luchar por la justicia es rezar (To struggle for justice is to pray).
Q: To bring in the local aspect, how did you come to make your home in Pittsburgh?
A: My family moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2004 from the Bronx, NY when I was called to pastor a church in Aliquippa, PA. My family is now settled in Penn Hills, PA, where we have lived for the last ten years. It took a while to transition from the culture of NYC, but we are truly Pittsburghers now.