5 Priests Who Turned Badass When Things Got Critical
The downside of being a man of God in a military setting is that there really is a cap on how much ass-kicking you can do. Sure, a priest can give last rights and counsel the troubled while the battle rages in the background, but it's not the sort of thing they make video games about.
But maybe they should, damn it. Especially when history is full of stories like ...
Andrew White Goes Face to Face With Warring Factions of Iraq
Growing up, Andrew White wanted to be nothing but an Anglican priest. He not only was ordained, but also left England and studied in Jewish and Muslim universities throughout the 1980s to learn about other religions. After that, he became a pacifist, promoting reconciliation between religions and vowing never to get into a war. That is, until 2005, when he became a chaplain and was sent into Iraq.
Which, judging by this reaction, he accepted with minimal brow furrowing.
Setting up shop, White saw no better area to be than the Red Zone, aka the dangerous areas of Baghdad. The only chaplain crazy enough to live there, White quickly gained the title of "Vicar of Baghdad." At first, many of the local crazies tried to scare him off by kidnapping him, torturing him, hijacking his car, bombing his church, and holding him at gunpoint, threatening to murder him. But while this succeeded in getting other clergy to leave the area, White stayed on.
Winning a begrudging respect, White was now in a unique position. Seen as one of the only people whom representatives on both sides of the conflict could count on to not screw them over, White took a lead role in negotiating the release of hostages (one of whom was his own deputy) and helped barter a negotiated peace between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in his area of Baghdad. Where the British and American governments had failed over a matter of years, White succeeded in only a matter of weeks.
We're assuming he just showed up and flexed until they started crying and gave in.
Even with his extended duties and the occasional assassination attempt, White still managed to give Sunday services every week. Today, White is still in Baghdad, now flanked by security guards after some of his staff was killed. Despite missing his fingertips due to one torture session, White has only left Baghdad once since 2005 and chooses to remain there, as life in London would be, in his own words, "boring." Compared to his life, he's undoubtedly right.
Pere Marie-Benoit Flips Off the Nazis
During the early 1940s, France suddenly came down with an epidemic at the time known as "the Nazis." While many just went along with it, a priest in Marseille named Pere Marie-Benoit was having none of it. A leader in Jewish studies, Marie-Benoit did not like how the local German and Italian invaders were treating the city's Jewish population. So instead of just letting things slide by, Marie-Benoit decided to run a Jew-smuggling operation that could have gotten him killed or imprisoned many times over.
Honestly, from the looks of him, he could have just scared Hitler into knocking that shit off.
At first he started in small ways, hiding a Jew here, giving a Jew supplies there. But soon, as more and more desperate people came to his door, Marie-Benoit had to quickly escalate things. By 1941, he was running one of the largest counterfeiting operations of the war. Working from inside a cramped (supposedly neutral) monastery, Marie-Benoit oversaw the making of fake passports, baptism certificates, money, and visas. This way, every person who entered the monastery could come out, in the eyes of the Germans and Italians, a) Catholic and b) having the proper paperwork to leave the country.
Height: 6 feet. Hair: Black. Religion: Definitely not Jewish, so please don't ask.
OK, so now you have 2,000 "Catholics" wandering around outside a monastery. What could Marie-Benoit do? Well, since their paperwork said they were Catholic, why not see if other Catholic nations wanted them? Contacting authorities in Spain and Italy, Marie-Benoit not only managed to get them to accept these sudden Catholic refugees, but also convinced the pope to help him with spying in 1942 -- an act of war at the time. While this was the pope's first real law-breaking act of the war, for Marie-Benoit, this was death sentence number 3,000 or so by now.
During this entire time, Marie-Benoit was also being chased around by the Gestapo and was nearly killed on a few occasions for the crime of "suspicion of aiding others." What can we say, Nazis were not nice people. However, a holdup in Spain on the documents of 2,600 Jews was soon an issue. Using a last-ditch effort that could have gotten him killed on the spot, Marie-Benoit managed to persuade the Spanish Consul in Rome that all of these people were Spanish. Despite it not saying so anywhere on their IDs, Spain fell for it.
We think it went something like this.
Marie-Benoit managed to not lose a single Jew and rode out the rest of the war knowing that he could pretty much screw up everything for the rest of his life and know he still had a free ride into heaven when the time arrived. And just to secure it, before his death in 1990, Israel gave him the honored title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Charles Liteky Goes into Rescue Mode
In 1967, Catholic chaplain Charles Liteky was serving in the Vietnam War, keeping up his troops' spiritual side. A pacifist from New York, Liteky couldn't wait to get out of Vietnam. On December 6, Liteky and his troops were out patrolling in the Bien Hoa Province when they were suddenly attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers. Severely outgunned 3-1, Liteky decided it was time to show them what priests could do.
Together with Private Cuddles, they were unstoppable.
Seeing troops in front of him fall, Liteky's first instinct was to take out his pistol and rush forward -- despite a Vietnamese machine gun going full blast in front of him. He would then dive on top of an injured soldier, shield him with his body, and drag him to safety when fighting lulled. Shot twice, Liteky did this over and over again until each wounded soldier was out of there (including two men right in front of the machine gun).
The good news was that evacuation helicopters were on the way. The bad news was that the soldier whose job it was to direct the choppers from the ground was killed. Liteky, seriously injured and having no experience in directing helicopters ever, managed to get the rescue chopper to land. He proceeded to do this all night with each chopper before another company came in and relieved the wounded and battle-hardened priest.
"I'm here to claim my presidency."
As Liteky had saved 20 soldiers, he was given the Medal of Honor and was guaranteed to never pay for a drink again. However, he later remembered he was a pacifist, and in 1986 he became the only person ever to give back his Medal of Honor -- one that he richly deserved for being a priest who suddenly clicked into "Rescue" mode and didn't snap out of it for a day or so.
Francis Gleeson Just Didn't Give a Shit
Growing up, Francis Gleeson wanted to be what many stereotypical Irishmen were destined to be: a priest. He joined the priesthood in 1912, but when World War I broke out soon thereafter, he enlisted in the British Army. He was installed as a chaplain and was sent off to France, straight to the front lines.
"Let's make it a quick photo. I've got armies to slay."
Unlike other chaplains who simply prayed, celebrated Mass, and tended to the dead, Gleeson saw the desperate situation in France and decided on a more "hands on" approach. He would routinely play an active role in the battalion he was assigned to and, regardless of faith, would give everyone the same Mass in his smooth, Liam Neeson-like accent. He was just another one of the troops. That is, until the first Battle of Ypres.
"Dying horribly by the millions is a small price to pay for looking this awesome."
While fighting with his men, Gleeson soon saw that all the other officers fighting the Germans were either gravely injured or dead. With the men without a leader, Gleeson tore off his chaplain insignia (a major "never do that" in the rulebook), grabbed a revolver, and led the men against their incoming pointy-hatted nemesis. Gleeson continued to go full John Rambo until another brigade joined in the fray and politely asked why the non-combatant priest was leading a brigade.
"Um ... war reasons, sir."
After being relieved, Gleeson continued to refuse to settle down and behave like a normal chaplain. He once gave a Christmas Day Mass from the top of a bunker where Germans were actively trying to hit him, and he was known to give last rites to troops in the middle of combat zones with shells dropping around him. The army finally had enough of his brave shenanigans and sent him home. But duty continued to call, and Gleeson would later become a chaplain again -- this time for the renegade Free Irish Army.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Anti-Nazi Double Agent
Starting off as a Lutheran pastor in 1920s Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer traveled to Italy and the United States to expand his learning, building up knowledge and tolerance of people of all races and creeds. He landed back in Germany in the early 1930s, just in time to see Charlie Chaplin impersonator Adolf Hitler get "elected" as chancellor. Despite Bonhoeffer's efforts, the church leadership was filled with Nazis supporters, making the mild-mannered Bonhoeffer just a mite angry.
You can add your own Indiana Jones joke.
He got out quickly, living in London for two years before coming back to Berlin, where he was almost immediately banned from the city for running a constantly traveling seminary (to avoid Nazi influence). After attending a conference in the United States in 1939, Bonhoeffer then had the choice of staying there or going back over to the brewing war zone. Since Bonhoeffer just really hated Nazis, he chose the latter, and literally caught the last boat back.
Even after returning to Germany, the rabble-rouser kept on working, although by now he was not allowed to speak in public or publish anything. Despite this, Bonhoeffer decided to push his luck further by joining the Abwehr (the Nazi military intelligence unit) with the intention of taking on what has to have been the most terrifying job in history: working as a double agent under the nose of the Third Reich. That's right -- by joining, he now had a good cover for going out in public to deliver messages to the anti-Nazi resistance, as well as being saved from joining the military. Soon Bonhoeffer was a part of a conspiracy within the Abwehr to overthrow and kill Hitler.
"It's kind of a hobby of mine."
And so Bonhoeffer spent half his time working directly with the Nazi's military intelligence, and the other half traveling all over Europe, trying to drum up support for an anti-Nazi resistance unit and secretly sending money to get Jews out of the country. The whole time he was working with other Nazi officials who had all agreed that this Hitler shit needed to end, and soon.
It's impossible to know how close Bonhoeffer came to altering history forever -- he was arrested by the Nazis, not for trying to overthrow the regime, but for money laundering (they mistook the funds meant for Jewish refugees as a simple embezzlement scheme). But while he was in jail, another Abwehr conspirator named Wilhelm Canaris was arrested, at which point the Nazis then figured out that this man of God and military intelligence agent was instrumental in multiple 1943 attempts on the Fuhrer's life that the Gestapo hadn't even caught onto.
"I'm currently learning how to tell you to suck it in every language on Earth."
Bonhoeffer and the other conspirators were soon sentenced to death. Despite his capture, Bonhoeffer was regarded as one of the best German intelligence agents and was so badass, he was the only double agent/preacher/would-be assassin any World War II country could name.
For more holy beat downs, check out 5 Nuns Who Could Kick Your Ass and 5 Superpowers From the Bible That Put Marvel and DC to Shame.
Related Reading: For more heroes of pacifism, read this article and learn about Father Sampson, the parachuting priest. Follow up with some aggressively badass pacifists- like the reverend who stopped a violent mob single-handed. To end your reading marathon on a high note, these stories of incredible cuteness in wartime are just what you need.