TORTURE: Pax Christi USA joins effort to seek elimination of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons

from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture

(Ed. Note: Pax Christi USA has signed onto this letter.)

WASHINGTON – Today, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in urging the White House to ensure that a national review of solitary confinement leads to concrete recommendations to eliminate long-term isolation in United States prisons and jails. In July, before his historic visit to El Reno federal prison, President Obama made his most critical statements on solitary confinement to date and announced the Department of Justice will conduct a national review of the practice.

The letter to the President comes on the heels of a study of the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) use of solitary confinement, which detailed widespread abuse, the placement of persons with severe mental illness in solitary, and estimated that more than 10,000 individuals are held in conditions of isolation by BOP on any given day.

solitaryProlonged solitary confinement has been defined as torture by the United Nations and is widely opposed by human rights, criminal justice reform and religious organizations. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has mobilized people of faith to oppose solitary confinement for many years. With momentum building over the past months, today over twenty national religious organizations – including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church – joined this call for the White House to ensure the nationwide review outlines a clear path toward ending long-term solitary confinement.

Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture said, “For people of faith, the widespread practice of prolonged solitary confinement in our nation’s prisons and jails is a moral outrage. It is unconscionable that, on any given day, more than 80,000 incarcerated people, including adults and youth, are held in conditions of isolation that we know to be torture. People of color, the poor, and individuals with mental illness bear the brunt of this cruelty. To deny people meaningful human interaction, through solitary confinement, is to violate their very humanity, and debase the divine spark in each of us. To release people directly from solitary confinement into our communities is not only a public safety concern, but betrays our moral commitment to justice that is truly restorative and transformative. For people of faith, it is imperative that the Obama Administration ensure that the nationwide review of solitary confinement create a road map for the elimination of this torture.”

REFLECTION: Pope Francis the prophet


by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

While in the United States, Pope Francis exercised his prophetic office by comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, but he did it with a soft and respectful voice.

Before his arrival, some of his critics said that he hated America and didn’t understand it, he was going to lecture Congress, he only talked about the poor and the rich and not working people, and he did not recognize that capitalism had brought millions of people out of poverty.


During his visit, especially in his talk to Congress, he confounded all his critics.

That Pope Francis loves the American people was clear in every encounter he had with individuals or crowds of people. He reached out with love and warmth to young and old, to everyone with whom he came into contact.

He also had clearly done his homework in studying America, which he called “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”…

Read the entire article by clicking here.

REFLECTION: Climate change is a moral issue

rauschby Fr. John Rausch, glmy
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Throngs of people poured into Washington, New York and Philadelphia during Pope Francis’s visit to see him, receive his blessing and hear his words.

Addressing Congress, Pope Francis touched on numerous themes, but reference to the environment will continue to receive great scrutiny: “In Laudato Si, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ (par. 61) and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” In his environmental encyclical, he affirmed, referencing the bishops of Bolivia, that countries having benefited the most economically from the enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, “have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused” (par. 170). Ultimately we Americans face a moral obligation.

climate-changeCuriously, many people in Developing Countries might have missed the pope’s visit to the U.S.–people in villages of Bangladesh or on small South Pacific islands–yet, his message to the world’s wealthiest nation may directly affect them.

About 100 million people world-wide live one meter above sea level. Some 650 million live along coastal areas that could be submerged if global climate change melts the great ice packs and raises the ocean level. Lives, cultures and livelihoods depend on a stable environment.

If a person accidentally kills someone by reckless behavior, it’s considered manslaughter. If the lifestyle of the world’s wealthy destroys a culture, or people, it approaches genocide. This is why human activity contributing to climate change is a moral issue.

Pope Francis cited the Golden Rule before Congress: Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you. The basis of Christian morality is interconnectedness. We are our brother’s (sister’s) keeper! And, we can’t submerge them!

The first defense against this moral responsibility is denial. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, a climatologist and evangelical Christian at Texas Tech University cites three reasons for the disconnect between believers and the findings of science.

  • “The evidence is not easy to see.” With air conditioning and adjustable thermostats everything looks fine. But, recall photos of birds and shorelines caked with oil after the BP spill. Our dependence on oil is easy to see, and our lifestyle can display some graphically bad effects.
  • “Confusion is rampant.” The fossil fuel industries have adopted the “tobacco strategy” that sows doubt about scientific conclusions, e.g. does smoking really cause cancer? The oil and coal industries maintain that human activity contributing to climate change is not certain. In reality, the peer-reviewed work of 97 percent of climatologists agree it is. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s rays and heats the earth, has risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. Science can measure CO2 precisely, and temperatures can be tracked. Conclusion: human activity is a major factor in climate change.
  • “The truth is frightening.” To change our lifestyle appears threatening, yet “to redirect our steps,” in the words of Pope Francis, may begin simply with turning off lights to save electricity, consolidating trips to use less gas, and avoiding drive-through lines to reduce idling. Small steps can develop an awareness that we are interconnected with one another and creation.

The way forward Pope Francis mentioned in his speech before Congress and wrote in his encyclical: “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (par. 3). This dialogue will require putting aside ideologies and polarized thinking.  It asks for honesty within and with others.

The dialogue can begin with a walk in nature, especially as the leaves turn and vibrant colors dot the landscape. It will deepen when we see the face of homeless as individuals struggling for the same dignified life we enjoy. Eventually, it will avoid scoring points in debates, and nurture that interconnectedness that exposes the moral sentiment allowing us to take responsibility for creation.

Climate change is a moral issue. And, Pope Francis reminds us, “If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs” (par. 11.)

REFLECTION: Our parishes would thrive if we stand up and be leaders

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

As always, we try to listen to our Scripture lessons at our Sunday liturgy within the context of what is happening in the world around us. Of course this past week, all our news media have been just overwhelmed by the coverage of Pope Francis and his trip to the United States. There have been millions of people flocking to see him. We’ve watched the crowds on television. We’ve listened to what the pope has to say and it’s been an overwhelming experience, I think, for most Catholics probably here in this country and especially for those who’ve had the opportunity to be where the pope has been in Washington and New York and Philadelphia.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos AiresAs we listen to our Scripture lesson in the light of what Pope Francis has been doing, I think there’s a couple of things we should especially notice. The first is very obvious — his outreach to the poor. When he spoke before the Congress, one of his main points was calling upon the people of the United States through their elected leaders to reach out to the poor, and in this case, especially the immigrants in our country who are flocking to our shores and whom many people want to push away and get rid of.

Francis is saying, “No, these are the poor. They’re coming here because they need assistance. They’re fleeing violence. They’re fleeing economic oppression. They’re coming out of a desperate need.” In fact, Francis makes it very concrete. One day this week when he was in Washington, he had lunch. Most of the time on a trip like this you would expect people invited to that lunch would be the mayor and the civic leaders, the church leaders and the wealthy — the important people.

Not with Francis — he invites the poor. And what I like about it, too, he doesn’t stand behind a counter and hand out the food and serve them in that way. That would be notable and good, but he sits down with them and engages with them. He shows them he enjoys their company. He wants them to feel welcome with him as the symbol of the church. He’s acting like Jesus who spent most of his time with the poor, drawing them in, having them follow him.

To read this entire article, click here.

PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: October 2015 newsletter now online

pcilogoThe September Pax Christi International Newsletter is now out and available! Included in the newsletter is information from Pax Christi International sections and member organizations around the world. The newsletter highlights inspiring projects for peace undertaken by our colleagues on six continents. This month’s issue also features Pax Christi USA’s statement on Pope Francis’ visit to the USA, local groups’ involvement in Campaign Nonviolence, links to articles in the media featuring the work of PCUSA, and reflections from our Bread for the Journey blog.

Click here for more from the Pax Christi International newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Recognizing everyday miracles

by Loretta Nemeth

maglianoCracks in the Sidewalk, by Tony Magliano. Eastern Christian Publications (Fairfax, Va., 2015). 28 pp., $9.95.

Tony Magliano, best known as an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist, enters the children’s book genre with Cracks in the Sidewalk. In it, Magliano stays true to his vocation by instilling the seeds of social justice, “sharing, fairness and love for life,” into the minds and hearts of young readers, inviting them to “deepen their awareness of the many wonders that surround them.” Magliano says the book will “help young children better appreciate the goodness of God, who showers us with wonderful blessings everyday!” The book leads the child from recognizing the work of God in nature to recognizing it in the caring people in the child’s life. A great gift book, when shared between adult and child, Cracks in the Sidewalk can be a reminder to the adult to stop and see God’s everyday miracles around us, too.

The delightful childlike crayon illustrations by Lynn Armstrong give young readers a sense of familiarity and comfort.

Cracks in the Sidewalk can be ordered under New Titles in the Online Catalog of Eastern Christian Publications, ; (703) 691-8862 for $9.95 plus $5 shipping and handling.

Loretta Nemeth is director of communications for the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Parma and editor of Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.