Rose Marie Berger

Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine
Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.

For more than 30 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of Drawn By God: A History of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries from 1967 to 1991 (with Janet Gottschalk, 2012) and Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.

A native of the West Coast, Rose has lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. since the mid-1980s. In the course of a 30 plus-year career in faith-based activism, advocacy journalism, and pastoral leadership, she has proven to be a skilled organizer, exceptional writer, visionary pastoral leader, and innovative teacher of biblical literacy.

With Sojourners, Rose has worked as an organizer on peace and environmental issues, internship program director, liturgist, community pastor, poetry editor, and, currently, as a Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine, where she writes a regular column on spirituality and justice. She is responsible for the Living the Word section, poetry, Bible studies, and interviews – and oversees the production of study guides, discussion guides, and the online bible study Preaching the Word. She is also a religion reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Huffington Post commentator. Her work has appeared in Religion News Service, Radical Grace, The Merton Seasonal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.

Rose has a veteran history in social justice activism, including: organizing inter-religious witness against the Keystone XL pipeline; educating and training groups in nonviolence; leading retreats in spirituality and justice; writing on topics as diverse as the “Spiritual Vision of Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Warhol,” the war in the Balkans, interviews with black activists Vincent Harding and Yvonne Delk, the Love Canal's Lois Gibbs, and Mexican archbishop Ruiz, cultural commentary on the Catholic church and the peace movement, reviews of movies, books, and music.

A founding member of a small creative writing group, Rose Berger has taught writing and poetry workshops for children and adults. She’s completed her MFA in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her poetry has been published in Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix and D.C. Poets Against the War.

Rose grew up in the Central Valley of California, located in the rich flood plains of the Sacramento and American rivers. Raised in radical Catholic communities heavily influenced by Franciscans and the Catholic Worker movement, she served for nine years on the pastoral team for Sojourners Community Church; five as its co-pastor. She directed Sojourners internship program from 1990-1999. She is currently Senior Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.

She has traveled throughout the United States, and also in Israel/Palestine, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosova, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador visiting primarily with faith communities working for peace in situations of conflict.

Rose’s articles include:

She co-owns a house with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and shares it with Rose’s retriever “Juba.”

Posts By This Author

No More Cover-Ups

by Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2018
It’s time for these idolaters to leave Catholic leadership.

I AM ROMAN CATHOLIC, and I want to apologize. Apparently, a portion of my church not only believes in but still practices child sacrifice.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report was clear. It opened: “We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: It happened everywhere.”

For more than 30 years, investigations around the world have revealed similar patterns in Catholic institutions. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes have decided that the Roman Catholic Church is too big to fail—that perpetrators of child abuse should be “bailed out” and victims given cash and gag orders to protect the idol of a religious corporation.

Since medieval times the Catholic Church has operated as an artificial legal persona to put property in perpetual collective ownership: the first legal corporation. If diocesan priests are considered “shareholders,” then the Catholic Corporation has willingly sacrificed children in the name of shareholder protection, betraying any legitimate “pro-life” ethic it might publicly promote. In the Bible this profanity is called the “worship of Molech,” an ancient god of Israel’s enemies: Molech’s outstretched arms of bronze were held in fire until red-hot, then living children were placed in his hands.

San Romero de la America

by Rose Marie Berger 10-13-2018

via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in a 2005 issue of Sojourners magazine.

"El Papa Juan Pablo Segundo Murió" read the banner shown on the TV set in the El Salvador bar I was sitting in April 2, 2005. The pope's death had been rumored all week. One taxi driver told me the pope was dead, though the next one informed me he was not.

In Suicide, Who Sinned?

by Rose Marie Berger 07-30-2018
Love is a universal obligation.

SUICIDE IS A SIN. As a Catholic, that’s what I was taught. Life is a gift from God; only God can take it away. Suicide chooses despair over God.

But I’ve never understood suicide to be an individual sin. It’s a communal one—based in a profound failure of love.

This past spring, two young men committed suicide while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. Beyond individual and communal sin is structural sin—when lovelessness is made into policy and enacted with cruelty. Note all the places where love failed.

In May, Marco Antonio Muñoz, a 39-year-old Honduran refugee, died in a south Texas jail cell of apparent suicide a few days after being forcibly separated from his wife and 3-year-old son at the U.S. border. And I mean “forcibly.”

When Border Patrol agents told Muñoz that the family would be separated, he “lost it,” according to The Washington Post. “‘The guy lost his s—,’ an agent said. ‘They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’”

Muñoz was transferred to a county jail and placed in a padded isolation cell. Guards checked on him every 30 minutes. Reportedly, every time the guards passed during the night, they noted him praying in the corner of his cell. By morning, Marco Antonio Muñoz was dead.

3 Things U.S. Catholic Bishops Can Do About Family Separation and Incarceration at the Border

by Rose Marie Berger 06-21-2018

Salvadoran migrant Epigmenio Centeno and his sons enter the shelter House of the Migrant, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

In this violent crisis, not significantly mitigated by President Trump’s recent executive order,every Catholic bishop becomes a “border bishop.” The tools of active nonviolence offer a way forward. In the first World Day of Peace message, Blessed Pope Paul VI said, “Peace is the only true direction of human progress — and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order.” He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.”

Charlottesville, the Summer After

by Rose Marie Berger 05-31-2018
Remembering requires storytellers.

Kim Kelley-Wagner Shrouded statue of Robert E. Lee in a Charlottesville park.

THERE IS NOTHING new under the sun, as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us. In this, theologian Elsa Tamez said, we can “find solidarity in our discontent.”

I visited Charlottesville in May, nearly a year after the “summer of hate.” I heard from young Christians who had been on the frontlines at Robert E. Lee Park (now called Emancipation Park). I stood in the presence of their discontent, listening and witnessing to the ongoing, traumatizing effects of last summer’s “fascist lollapalooza,” as one University of Virginia professor put it.

Still reckoning with the memory of Aug. 12, one leader in his 20s shared how he had tried to be a nonviolent defender amid multiple “armed actors,” including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, anti-fascists, and police. By the end of that day, two state troopers were dead, one woman was murdered, dozens were injured, and the whole community was emotionally, spiritually wounded.

Total Eclipse (of the Soul)

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Flyover America will go dark.

THIS WON'T HAPPEN again until 2045. On Aug. 21, the thumb of God (with a little help from the moon) will smudge out the sun. A total solar eclipse will mark the brow of the United States with a Stygian darkness so deep that stars will unmask in midday. From Lincoln City, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., “flyover” America will go dark.

In Hebrew tradition, the darkening of the sun or reddening of the moon are markers of cataclysmic political events with spiritual consequences. In Greek, eclipse means “abandonment,” in Hebrew “defect.” God’s light is in a state of hiddenness.

Piracy and Puritanism at Wells Fargo

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Advent is a time to push back against “the data of despair,” a time to take actions that generate “narratives of hope.”
Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

I OPENED MY first savings account at Wells Fargo in Sacramento, Calif., when I was 8 years old. I remember the bronze stagecoach penny bank they gave me to help me practice saving. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I put my money into a D.C.-based bank, soon bought out by Wells Fargo. But it wasn’t the same Wells Fargo I’d grown up with.

In 2012, the Justice Department found Wells Fargo guilty of discriminating against both African-American and Latino borrowers during the subprime mortgage heist. It’s one of the top two banks invested in the Corrections Corporation of America, which is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. In 2015, Wells Fargo was the world’s largest bank.

This fall, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who abruptly resigned in October, was called before a congressional investigative committee to answer accusations that thousands of Wells Fargo employees secretly opened 2 million fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission or knowledge, and were incentivized by the company to do so. Employees opened false banking and credit card accounts, transferred funds, and created phony access codes and email addresses. “The frauds violate federal and state statutes against bank fraud and identity theft,” William K. Black Jr., white-collar criminologist and cofounder of Bank Whistleblowers United, told Sojourners. Customers incurred charges and fines; in some cases, their credit ratings were damaged.

CEO Stumpf accepted “full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business.” (John Steinbeck once called this kind of thing a successful combination of “piracy and puritanism.”)

Wells Fargo claims that it has fired 5,300 people since 2011 related to these practices, but details are vague; the fraud investigators were hired by Wells Fargo. We don’t know how many were fired because they couldn’t fulfill the extortionate sales quotas.

Game Changer?

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
What if 1.2 billion Catholics embraced gospel nonviolence?

“JUST WAR IS KILLING US! There is no just war.”

That proclamation by a Catholic sister from Iraq, and others like it, resounded at a Vatican gathering this spring and fell on surprisingly receptive ears.

Sister Nazik Matty, an Iraqi Dominican, joined others from around the world in Rome in April to wrestle with how the Catholic Church could “recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” She has watched members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war.

“Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?” asked Sister Matty, who was driven from her home in Mosul by ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh. “In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.”

The Rome gathering on Nonviolence and Just Peace was unprecedented, bringing together members of the church hierarchy with social scientists, theologians, practitioners of nonviolence, diplomats, and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to discuss Catholic nonviolence and whether in the contemporary world armed force can ever be justified.

Of course, with such diverse participants, there was not a common mind on whether just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics used by Catholic theologians, has outlived its usefulness as church teaching.

Some of the academics and diplomats—particularly from the United States and Western Europe—maintained that just war criteria, when properly applied, are useful when working within halls of power, from the Pentagon to the United Nations, for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. One participant cautioned against “broad condemnations of just war tradition, if it means closing off dialogue with our allies.” Another questioned how diplomacy could continue without the just war framework as its common language.

But Catholics who came to Rome from conflict zones—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda—brought a different perspective.

An Abundance of Cultural Differences

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Catholics from different parts of the world have widely divergent experiences and contrasting approaches to “just war.”
Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

'WE CAN JOYFULLY anticipate an abundance of cultural differences and varied life experiences among the participants in the Rome Conference,” wrote Pope Francis in his welcome letter to the Nonviolence and Just Peace gathering in Rome, “and these will only enhance the exchanges and contribute to the renewal of the active witness of nonviolence as a ‘weapon’ to achieve peace.”

Nowhere were the “cultural differences” and “varied life experiences” more conspicuous than in the conversation about whether there is ever a Christian justification for armed force.

U.S. and Western European academics are thoroughly trained in the theory, theology, and application of just war theory. It’s taught in U.S. and European seminaries. It’s taught in all military academies. It provides a framework for international law.

In stark contrast, Catholics living in Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Sri Lanka, and other war-torn countries are not schooled in just war philosophy. It is not part of training for priests or academics or those in political life. When people from war-ravaged regions talk about “just war,” they speak from the experience of having been on the receiving end of “morally acceptable” drone strikes. They make a powerful argument for a paradigm shift away from just war thinking.

In regions of civil unrest, some said, where religious extremism is used as propaganda to advance partisan military and political objectives, even associating the language of “just war” with Catholicism can categorize Catholics as “combatants.”

In the case of Colombia’s brutal, 52-year-long civil war, Jesuit priest Francisco De Roux described how just war teaching misled Catholics into taking up arms. “In my Catholic country,” said De Roux, “our nuns and priests join the guerillas because of the just war paradigm. The Catholic paramilitaries pray to the Virgin before slaughtering people because of the just war paradigm.”

The Mosquito Manifesto

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Are we American Christians or Christians in America?

WHAT DO YOU do when the democratic process delivers the power of the presidency to an authoritarian leader with the strategic impulse control of a 2-year-old?

Here are a few responses I’ve observed.

OPTION 1: The Ostrich. Bury one’s head in the sand until the annoyances pass. The virulent rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s campaign, combined with his appointees and advisers, make this option available only to men of European decent. (White women may cover their heads, but shouldn’t bury them completely.)

OPTION 2: The Spaniel. Fluff up one’s coat and appear clean and eager on the doorstep of the new master. Hope for the best; hope for a bone. This option is supported by many who are well-meaning, are part of the political elite, or are dangerously naive.

OPTION 3: The Cockroach. When the light comes on, scatter into the street with a sign saying “Not My President.” Or simply hide in a dark corner hoping to pass the coming wrath undetected. This escape behavior is instinctual in creatures that are startled or undeveloped.

Since the wee hours of Nov. 9, I’ve exhibited most of these behaviors myself.

But as a Christian, I’m not allowed to live in illusions for long. In Paul’s “letter of tears,” written to the fledgling church at Corinth, he wrote, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, existing in a “post-truth” state is not an option.

Americans are deeply disillusioned about the state of our nation. The fundamental optimism of the “American dream” has not matched reality for at least three generations. American optimism has always been partly delusion, as evidenced by the experiences of those defined outside of it or on whose backs the “great good” was built.

An election, however, is supposed to be a tool for the nonviolent transfer and distribution of power, not a therapy session to deal with disillusionment.

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