The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left

40th Anniversary Edition

William O'Rourke
With a New Afterword

“During the first three months of 1972 a trial took place in the middle district of Pennsylvania: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA versus Eqbal Ahmad, Philip Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister, Neil McLaughlin, Anthony Scoblick, Mary Cain Scoblick, Joseph Wenderoth. The defendants stood accused of conspiring to raid federal offices, to bomb government property, and to kidnap presidential advisor Henry Kissinger. Six of those seven individuals are, or were, Roman Catholic clergy—priests and nuns. Members of the new ‘Catholic Left.’” — from the introduction

When The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left was originally published in 1972, it remained on The New York Times Book Review “New and Recommended” list for six weeks and was selected as one of the Notable Books of the Year. Now, forty years later, William O’Rourke’s book eloquently speaks to a new generation of readers interested in American history and the religious anti-war protest movements of the Vietnam era.

O’Rourke brings to life the seven anti-war activists, who were vigorously prosecuted for alleged criminal plots, filling in the drama of the case, the trial, the events, the demonstrations, the panels, and the people. O’Rourke includes a new afterword that presents a sketch of the evolution of protest groups from the 1960s and 1970s, including the history of the New Catholic Left for the past four decades, claiming that “[a]fter the Harrisburg trial, the New Catholic Left became the New Catholic Right.”

William O’Rourke is professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the founding director of the graduate creative writing program. He has published four novels and five works of nonfiction, as well as editing two anthologies. He has been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for his fiction, as well as other literary prizes.

“O’Rourke’s book on the Harrisburg trial was a classic when it first appeared and remains a classic of trial reporting, an account even forty years later that is still pertinent to our contemporary situation. His new afterword is a gem of condensed history. It is a boon to journalists, historians, and political analysts, as well as the general reader, to have this book back in print.” —David Black, author of The King of Fifth Avenue and The Extinction Event


“O’Rourke excels at bringing Harrisburg into the story. His expansive accounts of jury selection in this conservative region show what the defense had to overcome. . . . [R]epublication of The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left should help introduce a new generation to these important events and to refocus attention on how the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement affected the home front.” — Pennsylvania History

“For the sociologist interested in religion and social movements this edition published 40 years later with an Afterword and index makes for a fascinating ethnographic read.” — Catholic Books Review

“The 40th anniversary edition of this influential book, which includes a new afterword, speaks to readers interested in the religious antiwar protests of the Vietnam era.” — U.S. Catholic

Reviews of the first edition: “. . . a paean to the seven religious revolutionaries, a rueful but loving acknowledgment of their ‘brave and foolish letters,’ and a solemn threnody for the Catholic left, ‘broken by the mortar and pestle of this trial.’” — New Republic

“[The book is] in my opinion, a discovery, not so much about the facts of the trial but about what the antiwar priests and nuns of today mean to Catholic youth.” — Herbert Mitgang, The Progressive

“This is not only the best volume on any of the recent political trials. . . but a clinical x-ray of our society’s condition.” — Garry Wills, The New York Times Book Review