by Frank Lewis
Cleveland Network of Spiritual Peace Activists will host a visit by international peace activist Father Louis Vitale on May 6 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Community Church, 4427 Franklin Blvd. Vitale does not mess around:
SANTA BARBARA - Father Louis Vitale has lost track of how many times he has been arrested. More than 200, he figures, maybe 300. The gaunt Franciscan friar figures he's spent a year and a half behind bars. At 76, he is ready to go to jail again.
Dressed in the traditional brown robe and the knotted rope belt that signifies vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Vitale explains in his gravelly voice that he had a higher purpose when he trespassed two years ago at Vandenberg Air Force Base: calling attention to the perils of nuclear war and persuading military personnel to embrace nonviolence.
"The biggest threat to the world is our nuclear arsenal," he tells Magistrate Judge Rita Coyne Federman.
More than two dozen family members and friends, including actor Martin Sheen, are in the courtroom to show support for the friar and his three co-defendants.
Vitale tells Federman, who had found him guilty in December, that sending him to jail would only make him more determined to break the law again to protest injustice.
"I am committed to doing anything I can," he says.
The judge, rejecting the prosecution's call for five months in jail, concludes that more time behind bars would not change the priest's ways. She orders him to pay a $500 fine.
Sheen, sitting in the second row, expresses surprise. "The government needs the dough," he cracks.
Outside court, Vitale admonishes friends and family members not to pay it. He would rather go to jail.
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