Thursday, October 31, 2013

A very complete day

I woke up early this morning to watch the Red Sox clinch the World Series. It has been an amazing year with an incredible team. Who would have thought this could happen after last year's demoralizing season and after this year's Marathon attacks? I am certainly proud of my native city.

It was going to be a good day anyways because it is Halloween and I like the lead up to the holiday. I love the crunch of leaves under my feet when I walk through a forest and I am always astonished at the gently tumbling golden and red leaves. I fondly remember walking home from school through the state forest when silence filled the air. Since there were very few houses or cars going to the Terrace, I would often be surprised by a darting fox or a deer as it crossed the road. I always felt like I was very close to the earth and I love the sounds of the invisible wind as it causes a leaf to launch from its perch and begin its spiraling descent.

Halloween also falls between my sister's memorial day and All Saints and All Souls Days.

I am happy for another reason. I have my MacBook Pro laptop monitor repaired. It has taken nearly two months and since I was hung together by threads, it prevented me from settling into my room and establishing a routine. Most of my waking time would be at church or in my office and it is always good to have a change of scenery. Now I can make my bedroom feel comfortable and I can establish a routine that makes me feel like I'm at home.

It would have helped to have the computer downstairs for the month-long dance rehearsals with exceedingly loud music that I don't like. Now I can have quiet.

As I was at the service station to wait for my computer to be fixed, I noticed all the old computers piled up. It reminded me of my corporate days when people would house broken old computers and I would send them immediately to the dumpster. However, I did think fondly back on those days when I would feel great satisfaction in solving employee computer problems.

Last night I sat in my room to pray. I like a stick of incense and watched the flame spiral upwards -- the opposite of autumn leaves -- and it made me feel so peaceful.

The day would have been very complete if my painting instructor showed up at the studio. I waited and did some fine tuning of the painting for 1.5 hours before he arrived. When he showed up, I was feeling anxious because it was getting near time to leave. He wanted me to stay and finish and I certainly want to finish it, but work does call. It leaves me something to look forward to doing on Saturday morning.

I received mail today. It is always good to receive mail.

All is well. All is exceedingly well.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Southern Part of the Dead Sea

I set out this morning to take a few photos of the Dead Sea. I had wanted for a while to go from the top reaches of the northern beach to the more interesting southern portion. When I was searching for the northernmost access, I came across a large/hotel resort that feels far removed from the beach, but I suspect when the effort to fill the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea, the hotel will have a nice beach at its doorstep. This is good forward thinking.

I am very pleased that good opportunities are being made for the resort town. The Samara Mall is being built and it will be the first mall at the resort. This is quite a big deal because there isn't a whole lot of activity to keep people down at the Sea for an extended period of time. I imagine there will be restaurants dotting the landscape as well to give patrons choices in their culinary experiences. There is a small village for employees of the hotels, and the mall and restaurants will make their time in town more enjoyable. I can only see that the place will expand and grow. Good work, Jordan.

I love that hang-gliding activities are held at the Dead Sea because I'd like to see it as a place for extreme sports.

The Israeli side of the sea remains untouched - curiously. They are generally better builders and can see the potential for tourism, but the Jordanian side has taken the lead.

I traveled to the south side where you can see fertile lands in what used to be the sea's bottom. I'm amazed that the saline content in the ground allows food to be grown, but it is quite a booming farm town. Lots of minerals, like potash, are mined there as well.

I was looking for Lot's Cave, but I did not find it. Confusing, contradictory signs led me to abandon my search, but I will go there again when I have a visitor. I'm told the Italians did a nice job in putting together a museum.

On the way to the Sea, I stopped at a Harley Davidson shop. I passed by it numerous times and realized that it must be a gimmicky shop, but I was surprised by the great number of monster bikes they showcase. Not only was there a whole line of 2014 motorcycles, clothing of all sort and other products were up for sale. They even had a children's section. I was happy to find the biker industry thriving, even though I've never ridden a bike. It was great fun to visit.

We were given a gift of manna by an Iraqi. I won't be trying it because it is candy that is designed to pull out any dental fillings. I plan on having mine stay where they are. These manna candies are sitting in baking flour so it looks really strange. This is the only place in the world where this type of manna product is available and many Iraqi claim that it is where Moses and his crew wandered and were fed by God. The desert is quite large and it is entirely plausible. We don't know if they were good map-makers back in the day, but they did wander for forty years.

The play and the chorus rehearsals are going well. I'm told we have a vacation next week (on the 7th) because it is like an Islamic New Year. I'm all for any days off I can get.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lacking Internet

We are without internet for four days because someone used up the 35 gigabytes that are in our account for a monthly basis. Much activity has occurred over the past month and there are many people who could have drained the system. We cannot have it replenished until Monday.

With that said, I'm very happy for today. For the past six weeks, dancers have been rehearsing near my office. They dance to very loud dance sounds. Tonight is the performance so I am enjoying a day in my office without noise and it is a welcome respite. The performance will be nice and I'm glad they are doing it. I'm just glad that this introvert will finally have the silence he needs to be replenished.

I was at Mass today and I saw a Halloween sweatshirt worn by a Filipino man. I could clearly see

itch and

so it was obvious to me that it said something about a zombie, a witch, and a grave. When the man came to communion, I could see it really said Abercrombie and Fitch, the First Brave.

Oh, my.

The weather quite nice as it is about 77 degrees during the day. Thank God my weekend was so busy that I did not miss internet all that much. I went to the recording studio for the radio advertisement early this morning and then we had a photoshoot last night for billboards. I better get rehearsing my Arabic songs.

This weekend we celebrated Our Lady of Palestine. I have to learn more about this particular aspect of Mary, but since we are of the Jerusalem diocese it is a big day for Catholics. It is funny to think of the Holy Land as a mission territory.

After Mass on Friday, a Filipino came up to me and said, "Fr. John, of all the good homilies you give, this one excelled." I was glad to have some feedback from the community. On Saturday, the same thing happened. An Orthodox man came up to me and said, "I hope you are writing a book of your homilies because they are great." How come it happens that every time you quickly throw something together, people like it better than the ones you perfect?

Canon lawyers hear from church prosecutor of sex abuse cases

Thomas Reese | Oct. 25, 2013

The experience of the sexual abuse crisis, hopefully, will "help us become more humble, less arrogant and bossy in our ministry," Bishop Charles Scicluna told members of the Canon Law Society of America on Oct. 16 at their annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif.

He described sexual abuse as "an egregious betrayal of sacred trust" that "has the power to stint the normal development of people" and "cause depression, post-traumatic disorders, loss of self-esteem and, most tragically, loss of faith." It "is an expression of the anti-Gospel, a betrayal of the message of compassion and love."

Scicluna began working as the first promoter of justice (roughly equivalent to chief prosecutor) at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in May 2002, when a "tsunami" of abuse cases hit his office. As an official of the doctrinal congregation, Scicluna conducted the investigation of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Despite opposition from some curial cardinals but with the backing of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Scicluna pursued the investigation until Maciel was suspended from priestly ministry in 2006. Scicluna also reviewed hundreds of case files of priests who eventually were dismissed from ministry for sexual abuse. He left the congregation in 2012 to become an auxiliary bishop in Malta.

The response to the sex abuse crisis

While the bishop defended the "wisdom and courage" of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in dealing with the crisis, he said that in developing Vatican policy and procedures, "the discussions were lengthy and at times chaotic." Even the decision to include sexual abuse of minors as a grave crime "had its friends and its adversaries" in the Vatican, he said.

One of the most important changes the Vatican made was to provide an administrative response to the sex abuse cases. Previously, all cases had to go through a juridical trial, which was cumbersome and slow. He said 60 percent of the cases are now resolved through an administrative process.

"The juridical process is reserved to cases where the case is not clear and you need to give everybody the full guarantees of the law," he said.

Although all sex abuse cases are referred to Rome, few cases are resolved directly by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"The general practice is to allow the local church to exercise its jurisdiction under the supervision of CDF," he said. Even with appeals, in order to avoid a large backlog of cases, the doctrinal congregation prefers to let another local tribunal deal with the case by special mandate of the congregation.

Dismissing priests through an administrative process without a trial was opposed by some canonists as the equivalent of suspending due process and imposing martial law, where the bishop acts as both prosecutor and judge. Scicluna said the church does not have a separation of powers as in the American criminal justice system.

"In the church, the bishop is the judge, and that is a theological principle," he said.

'Prayer and penance'

In his speech, the bishop noted that canon law specifies three ends for any penal process: reparation of scandal, restitution of justice and the conversion of the accused.

"Whatever we do, we have to ensure these three ends," he said.

He acknowledged that the three goals of the process can sometimes conflict in sentencing.

"A relatively mild sentence may look to the reform of the offending cleric but may, because of its laxity, exacerbate the scandal among the people," he said. "A harsh penalty may satisfy the demands of justice and respond to the outrage among the Christian faithful, but it may throw the offending priest into deep despair."

Even when the priest is dismissed from the clerical state, the church "never throws him away" because that could lead to "further reoffending, further crimes, further harm." The priest "remains a member of the faithful called, as we all are, to conversion and grace."

Scicluna also called on bishops to consult and compare notes on how they deal with priests who are consigned to a life of "prayer and penance."

"I understand the phrase in the sense that the priest has come to acknowledge his sins and his crimes, has accepted to do reparation and has started the long hard pilgrimage of conversion," he said. "A comfortable life on a golf course is definitely not what the words 'prayer and penance' mean."

Scicluna also acknowledged how some decisions have "created a more or less protracted limbo status for accused priests" who are placed on administrative leave for an indefinite period of time while no further action is taken.

"This is an abuse of the system and a denial of the right to due process," he said. It provides closure for neither priests nor victims, he added.

Priests unsuited for ministry

In his address, Scicluna went beyond the issue of sexual abuse and touched on dealing with priests who are simply unsuited for ministry. A bishop should "never knowingly assign a priest to a ministry where he will be of harm to the community," he said.

"There are situations where the priest concerned has not committed any crimes and has not been accused of misconduct but, this notwithstanding, his modus operandi, the way he deals with his parishioners, causes a deep malaise and constant concern as to whether a community of the faithful should be entrusted to him."

Even so, the bishop faces a tough decision in dealing with unassignable priest, he said.

"There is no community to which I would send [an unassignable priest]. He wants to be a pastor, but we don't hate our communities. We love every single community. I don't want to send this guy to any community because there is no community I hate that much. He would be very happy, but I would not be doing my job. ... I would have to give an account to God for my being unfair to the people."

In his speech, he said canons 1740-1741 from the Code of Canon Law allow a bishop to remove such a priest from ministry. For example, "a pattern of boundary violations repeated over a sustained period of time would fit into the criteria indicated by the code" even if he has not committed a crime.

Scicluna acknowledged that this is a minefield.

"Too stringent a policy will deprive the church of good priests who may still do a good job, given the correct empowerment of the community and the right fraternal support," Scicluna said. "On the other hand, a policy which is too lax (because of lack of ordained ministers or because of a laissez-faire style of leadership) may open the flood gates on serious misconduct, scandalize the community and abort vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in the young generations."

A vision for the future

While much of his address dealt with technical issues of church law, Scicluna also articulated principles for moving forward:
1.      A strategy for the protection of children and the prevention of child abuse must enshrine the principle that the well-being of the child should be of paramount concern
2.      Recognition of child abuse as a tragic wound to the dignity of the human family
3.      In communities where authority is held in high esteem, including communities where sacred power is exercised, empowerment of children and families becomes an essential aspect of prevention of abuse. "The empowerment of the community in this context means the ability to denounce abuse of sacred power for what it is: a betrayal of trust." In this context, Scicluna referred to the powerlessness of the mother of the abused boy in the play and movie "Doubt."
4.      Global institutions, including religious communities, should offer leadership in the formation and screening of pastoral agents.
5.      Institutions need to adopt clear codes of conduct that establish clear boundaries in professional relations between pastoral agents and people who approach them in a professional capacity. These codes of conduct need to specify in a clear way the consequences of misconduct.
6.      Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical crime. It is also a crime prosecuted by civil law. It is important to cooperate with such authority within their responsibilities.
7.      Care for the victim is also intrinsically linked to the task of prevention.
8.      The welfare of children and of the community must be the paramount criterion in decisions concerning personnel. Perpetrators who are not able to observe set boundaries forfeit their right to roles of stewardship in the community.
9.      Institutions, including churches, should show openness to research and development in the field of prevention of child abuse. We all have a great deal to learn from psychology, sociology and the forensic sciences. This does not dispense us from the duty to undertake an honest analysis of what went wrong in tragic cases where stewardship was lacking and the response to child abuse was inadequate because of misplaced concerns for the good name of the institutions we represent.
10.  No strategy for the prevention of child abuse will work without commitment and accountability. Quoting Pope Benedict's address to the bishops of Ireland, Scicluna said, "Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the people towards the church."

Bishops' accountability

In an addendum to his address, Scicluna took up the question of the accountability of bishops.

"Bishops are ultimately accountable to God for the stewardship of their diocese," he wrote. "But on earth they are also accountable to their people and to the College of Bishops under Peter."

Canon 1389 §2 states: "A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty." "This law applies also for bishops," Scicluna wrote, but any penal action against a bishop for culpable negligence in the protection of minors is reserved to the pope.

During the question-and-answer period after his talk, Scicluna was asked how to balance the canonical requirements of secrecy with the requirements of transparency under the Dallas Charter.

"The main concern should not be with the pontifical secret but with the common good of the local church," he responded. "We are dealing with the protection of minors. The pontifical secret is not an absolute. ... The protection of minors is more important than the pontifical secret," although he jokingly commented he might be "censured tomorrow for what I am saying."

He said he prefers translating the Latin "secreto" in the canon law as "confidential" rather than "secret."

"There are procedural advantages to confidentiality" in protecting the good name of the accused and protecting the freedom of witnesses, he said. But its purpose is not "to withhold information from the civil authorities or deny the victims the right to seek civil remedy."

He was also asked for suggestions on how to help victims regain their faith. He recounted meeting with victims while he was promoter of justice and as a bishop.

"My experience is that the first thing you need to do for victims is to listen with humility," he said. "So many victims haven't had the opportunity to tell their story in a pastoral context. Telling your story to a court or to a lawyer is one thing. Telling the story to the church is totally different."

"The other thing is the courage to tell victims to move on," he said. "Unfortunately, some victims create a persona out of being victims. And that I find is so sad because if my persona is that 'I am a survivor,' is that the only meaning that I have? Is that my only worth, as being a survivor? We need as a community to help victims to find a bigger, a greater dignity."

He acknowledged that people will not move forward from identifying solely as a survivor if there is not closure "in justice and truth."

Money "may satisfy a person for a while, but it does not give spiritual growth or psychological growth," he said. "We need to help victims to discover that they belong to the church even if they have suffered at the hands of the ministers of the church."

"A tragic consequence of abuse is the loss of faith -- a loss of faith in a God who is compassionate, merciful and loving," Scicluna said. "I have met victims who have renounced the faith as a consequence of what they suffered, and my attitude is silence and prayer."

He told of visiting the Oakland, Calif., Cathedral of Christ the Light, where there is a memorial to victims of sexual abuse with the inscription "never again."

"It is a very important statement, and we have to own it as a church," he said. "The victims evangelize us. And so they are not only at the receiving end of evangelization; they evangelize us because they have an experience which unites them to the cross of Jesus. But my message to the victims is, let us move on as a community. We have also been wounded by your wounds. Your wounds are our wounds. But we need to move forward together."

Sunday, October 20, 2013


People often say that the eyes are the entry point into the soul, or something like that, but what about teeth? What does a person's teeth say about them? They are valid indicators of the way a person lives. I don't know how teeth because important to me today, but the topic keeps chattering about today.

I saw this man before Mass. He was a custodian at one of the churches. He was well groomed - an excellent haircut, clean-shaven, tidy appearance, no longer smoked, and a kindly face. You don't often see this type of man in this part of town. When he spoke, he had decent looking teeth, but they he turned his head to the side and it revealed he only had six front teeth on top and six on the bottom. I couldn't get to see further back, but I thought that I was very glad to have a health system that allows me to take care of my teeth. My dentist in Scarborough, Maine is very good and I know good dentists here in Amman.

When I was say Mass, I also noticed the teeth of some parishioners as they were coming forward. A former student said that when I smile I don't show my teeth, but I think I do when I laugh. I also laugh a lot.

At lunch following Mass, one of the Filipinas out of the blue asked me if I had all my teeth because she said they look nice. How strange that teeth keep showing up today. I told her I did. She said she was four replacement ones and she really misses them.

My other thought during Mass, which was much holier, was wondering how many pieces of the Sacred Bread I gave out over the years. I thought of other older priests who have been good pastoral examples and it made me wonder about the number of people who have received the Sacred Body or the Sacred Blood from them. If we were to quantify it, which never makes sense to do, it would be staggering numbers. I wondered about the number of times I received the Body and Blood of Christ and whether I am becoming more like him for receiving him? Hmm.

I've always liked the phrases in John 6 that talk about "Crunch and Munch." We are to actively eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood. I like to actively participate in that because something real is happening. Thank God I have all my teeth.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stand Still Time

This was a beautiful week because the Muslims celebrated their Eid and it gave us all a chance to slow down. I almost treated it like a vacation week and it gave me the opportunity to paint three watercolors. I painted one exactly a year ago and I was discouraged by the results, but this time was much different. Oh, what I can do with spare time. It is rare that I get it, but it allowed me to work on some projects and get some rest at the same time.

I was talking with a few Filipinos at a birthday party and I said, "Every time you have spare time you cook and eat." They said, "There's nothing else to do. All we know to do is to have parties and go to Church."

I suggested that we do some arts and crafts, maybe take up sewing lessons, go to museums, and find other ways to expand the horizons for people and these women squealed. They shrieked, "We would love to do that." One woman said, "I love to crochet and knit." I asked if she would teach others and she said, "Father, I'm good enough to do that."

Oh, we have so many possibilities. I can't wait to get this started. There is so much life to live. I want to show them just how much their lives can be enriched.

On a more somber note, I have been watching news clips about slavery in the world. Slavery today has the largest numbers in our human history. We think we have wiped it out in the West, but it takes shape in different ways. In the Middle East, slavery is sanctioned even though it is always talked about as a legal arrangement.

It is enlightening for me to read the Gospels and the Old Testament in light of these present relaties. Life hasn't changed too much over 2,000 years.

Take a look at this website for information on slavery in the world today:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sports and Holidays

I was thinking this morning about the effect of sports on culture and religion. Of course, religion affects culture and often while wanting to influence will stand apart from culture. Islam does not like the culture of the West and at the same time wants to influence culture to make it conform to its principles.

At least three determinants affect culture: sports, education, and leisure.

Western Amman is markedly different from the Center and East Amman. The West is a wealthier community where the pace of life is much better organized and orderly. These people are the value shapers of the region. They are educated and have leisure time on their hands. A psychological great divide occurs between the two worlds.

The fall is a time when the baseball and soccer playoffs occur. American football has begun and the pre-seasons fro hockey and basketball have started. Football games are played on Sundays because this is traditionally the day people are resting and have some downtime on their hands. What is American Football was brought to the Middle East as Sunday is the first day of the work week? Hmmm.

Sports games are played on holidays so people can view them. What would happen if a game was scheduled during the Eid? Would more people watch or would people protest because the Eid was not upheld? Would more attention be given to a big matchup than to the religious holiday? Hmmm. The money generated by the games would certainly direct many activities and it would drive other businesses to get involved. National pride could swell if regional teams were competing and everyone wanted to buy a ticket to attend the games.

A sports culture would have a dramatic effect upon the Middle East. If you go to a sidewalk souk, you'll see Florida Marlin or Philadephia Eagles sweatshirts for sale. Other USA teams are recognizably available. The youth want them and they want to see a good competition. They want winners. With the Jordanian team almost qualifying for the World Cup, the city broke out into jubilant celebrations last month. Can the sports culture take ahold of the youth's consciousness? I think so.

I think of how powerful sports is at all levels of society in the USA. In high schools, it often becomes clear that a powerful sports program is given more time and money than academics. Summer leagues abound and semi-professional sports markets have a great niche. Double A and Triple A affiliates know how to make money and cultivate a community of good feeling.

As I mentioned in a previous post, a sports culture would help shape people from thinking only about "now" as we "wait til next year" for the start of the season.

Sports, with an increase of leisure time and reading, plus education can bring the culture into places unforeseen. It can be very exciting, but does this particular culture want to give its people enough freedom to enjoy it?

Health Care for the Oglala Sioux Nation

This letter concerns the plight of the Lakota Sioux Native Americans who are ravaged by a systemic health care problem on the reservation. A friend of mine is involved in the efforts to bring greater attention to the hardships they face daily.

Concerned Catholics of the Oglala Lakota Nation
Post Office Box 140
Oglala, South Dakota 57764

7 July 2013

The Acting Chief Executive Officer
Pine Ridge Hospital
Post Office Box 1201
East Highway 18
Pine Ridge, South Dakota 57770

Dear Sir:

We, the undersigned Concerned Catholics of the Oglala Lakota Nation, write to express a grave concern: Pine Ridge Hospital, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services through the Indian Health Service, has failed utterly to provide meaningful comprehensive care for its adult patients—and has contributed to abysmal life-expectancy statistics for Oglala Lakota women and men living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

On 8 March 2000, while addressing the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Dr. Michael Trujillo, who was then Assistant Surgeon General and Director of the Indian Health Service, observed that the mission of the Indian Health Service is “to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.” He added that the goal of the Indian Health Service is “to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to the service population. He affirmed: 

“Our foundation is to uphold the Federal government’s obligation to promote healthy American Indian and Alaska Native people.” This obligation is enshrined in the Snyder Act of 1921 and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976, Public Law 94-437. The Snyder Act authorized appropriations for “the relief of distress and the conservation of health” of Native peoples. The explicit intent of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility to provide “the highest possible health status to Indians and to provide existing Indian health services with all resources necessary to effect that policy.”

The promises of this legislation contrast sharply with the reality on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Narcotic analgesics, especially hydrocodone, flow from the hospital’s pharmacy like a toxic river, at times depleting the pharmacy’s monthly drug allotment before month’s end.  Patients complaining of chronic pain, often addicted to narcotic analgesics (because of poor continuity of care) or collecting them for diversion, flood practitioners’ schedules each day and prevent the more seriously ill elders from receiving needed care for conditions like type 2 diabetes, chronic essential hypertension, coronary artery disease, and chronic liver and kidney disease. Patients who need to be treated by specialists and subspecialists fail to receive that level of care while the hospital’s Contract Health Department—pleading helplessness because of limited funding—denies patients, including the elderly, needed resources for “comprehensive care.” Competent practitioners—frustrated by impotent, constantly-changing leadership and harassed by patients seeking narcotics—leave the institution, and are replaced by locum tenens nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are unable to provide adequate continuity of care. The emergency room sags under the weight of too many patients and the imminent threat of heavy sanctions for incompetence exposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This is hardly the “comprehensive care” proclaimed by the government’s sign prominently displayed outside the hospital. This is hardly the road to providing the Oglala Lakota with “the highest possible health status.” By some estimates the average life expectancy of a man on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 56 years; for a woman it is 66 years. How is this possible in the United States of America?

In the Catholic Church there is a long tradition of social teaching—animated by Scripture and informed by reason and experience—that cherishes the care of the sick. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus reminds his followers: “Come, you who are blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me” (Matthew 25.34 – 35). Building on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, or “Peace on Earth” (11 April 1963), not only affirms health care as a human right (section 11), but calls upon governments to insure its adequacy (section 60).

In the light of our Catholic Christian tradition we are bound by our consciences to serve as advocates for the dignity of the vulnerable in our midst. And so we ask you: How can the health care offered to the First Americans of the Pine Ridge Reservation be so inadequate for so long? It is out of our deep concern for the welfare of the Oglala Lakota, who are made in the image of God, that we now call upon you as a federal official responsible for the operation of Pine Ridge Hospital to set aside time to meet with our working group to address our deep concerns about the quality of care offered in the Pine Ridge Service Area. We will contact your office to schedule an appointment.

Respectfully submitted,
Concerned Catholics of the Oglala Lakota Nation


America Magazine
106 West 56th Street
New York, New York 10019

Mr. Bryan Brewer, Sr.
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Post Office Box 2070
Pine Ridge, South Dakota 57770

Ms. Dixie Gaikowski
The Deputy Area Director of Field Operations
Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service
Federal Building, Room 309
115 4th Avenue SE
Aberdeen, South Dakota 57401

The Most Reverend Robert Gruss
Bishop of Rapid City
606 Cathedral Drive
Rapid City, South Dakota 57701

Health and Human Services Committee
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Post Office Box 2070
Pine Ridge, South Dakota 57770
Attention: Ms. Dawn Black Bull, Secretary

The Honorable Timothy Johnson
United States Senate
136 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Susan V. Karol, M.D.
Medical Director, Indian Health Service
The Reyes Building
801 Thompson Avenue, Suite 400
Rockville, Maryland 20852

Mr. Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, New York 10018
The Honorable Kristi Noem
United States House of Representatives
226 Cannon Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Mr. Bart Pfankuch
Executive Editor
Rapid City Journal
507 Main Street
Rapid City, South Dakota 57701

Yvette Roubideaux, M.D.
Director, Indian Health Service
The Reyes Building
801 Thompson Avenue, Suite 400
Rockville, Maryland 20852

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
United States Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

The Honorable John Thune
United States Senate
511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism


As US and Soviet forces converged in Germany in the final days of WWII, soldiers from both armies met at the River Elbe near Torgau. That historic meeting of comrades, united in the face of common threats, is the inspiration for the creation of a unique group, the Elbe Group.
The purpose of the “Elbe Group” is to maintain an open and continuous channel of communication on sensitive issues of US-Russian relations.
The members of the Elbe Group are senior retired military and intelligence flag officers, all of whom have strong connections back into their governments. It is an unprecedented gathering of three and four star veterans from the Federal Security Service, Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, Ministry of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Department of Defense.  The Elbe Group has high level visibility in both the US and Russian governments.  President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have all been personally briefed on the group by Russian members.  Current chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov participated in the Elbe Group Round Table on Missile Defense in November 2011, hosted by former Minister of Interior, General Anatoly Kulikov.  US members likewise send feedback directly to the highest levels in Department of State, DIA, CIA and Defense Department.
Jerusalem Meeting, 22-26 March 2013
The Elbe Group held a meeting in the Old City of Jerusalem from 22-26 March discussing nuclear terrorism, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Intelligence Cooperation among other topics.
Members of the Elbe Group at the Jerusalem Meeting:
  • General of the Army (ret) Anatoliy Kulikov, former Minister of Interior;
  • General of the Army (ret) Valentin Korabelnikov, former Head of Main Intelligence Directorate of General Staff
  • General Colonel (ret) Anatoliy Safonov, former First Deputy Director of FSB and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs;
  • General Colonel (ret) Vladimir Verkhovtsev, former Head of 12th Main Directorate, Ministry of Defense;
  • Colonel (ret) Vladimir Goltsov, former Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Atomic Energy;
  • General Eugene Habiger USAF (ret), former Commander in Chief, Strategic Command;
  • General John Abizaid USA (ret), former Commander Central Command;
  • Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck USA (ret), former Superintendent US Military Academy;
  • Lieutenant General Michael Maples USA (ret), former Director, Defense Intelligence Agency;
  • Mr. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former Director, Intelligence and Counterintelligence at DOE;
  • Brigadier General Kevin Ryan USA (ret), former US Defense Attache, Moscow.
Overview. US and Russian participants largely agreed that in many cases (Syria and Iran for example), the two countries actually have broad strategic convergence but differ importantly on the tactics for achieving the goals.  The Elbe Group does not consider existing differences to be an insurmountable obstacle to continued cooperation between the two countries on most issues.
Nuclear Terrorism. Nuclear Terrorism remains a real threat that requires US and Russian joint leadership to confront.  The Elbe Group, which helped publish the first ever joint US-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism (JTA), provided input on the follow-on report to the JTA which will be published by Harvard’s Belfer Center and Russia’s Institute for US and Canadian Studies in the next couple of months.  To support the goals of the government-level Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the Elbe Group will reach out to international organizations (like IAEA) and counterpart groups in other countries to help spread information about the threat and what to do about it.
Nuclear Materials Black Market. Russian members suggested that the term “Black Market,” used in the JTA follow-on report, exaggerates the level of illegal activity in buying and selling of nuclear materials.  They recommended dropping the term “Black Market,” saying that for a market to exist there must be regular buyers and sellers who know where and how to make transactions and what the prices are.  They claimed that describing what has been happening as a “market” implies much more organized activity than is actually taking place. .  The issue of whether there is an organized effort to buy and sell nuclear materials is important to characterizing the threat from nuclear terrorism.
China. The Russian side of the Elbe Group will provide an opportunity for the group to engage with Chinese military on the topic of preventing nuclear terrorism.  General Kulikov, President of the Club of Military Leaders, will host an event in May during which American participants can join the Russians in discussing this threat with the Chinese military.  Kulikov said that his club is also hosting two Chinese Military Fellows this year and, he reminded the Elbe Group that at his invitation a Chinese officer sat in on the Elbe round table on Afghanistan in November.
Syria. Russian opinion is that the need to avoid a takeover by Sunni extremist groups in Syria outweighs the need to intervene to stop the conflict.  No Russian Elbe member defended Bashar Al-Assad, but they all claimed that in every other Arab country where regimes have changed, it has been for the worse.  American participants recognized the risk of Sunni extremist groups ascending to power, but did not agree that this risk outweighed the risks from doing nothing."During the Cold War, Russia championed revolution - any revolution - while America sought stability.  Today the roles are reversed with America for revolution and Russia for stability,"one participant noted.
Iran. A major difference between US and Russian Elbe members' assessments of the threat from Iran centers on the capability of Iran to make a nuclear weapon.  Russian Elbe members do not agree with US or Israeli assessments that Iran could produce the necessary materials in the next 12 to 18 months to make a nuclear bomb.  Russian members claimed it would take Iran at least a decade.  US and Russian members both expressed sincere doubts that a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could successfully delay the Iranian nuclear program.
Ballistic Missile Defense. Although the Elbe Group has discussed BMD at each of its previous meetings the Russian side said that BMD was now in the hands of the two governments and our input would not add anything significant.  The American side agreed in principle, but noted that the recent decision to cancel Phase IV of the European deployment opened new possibilities for moving ahead.  One Russian member summed up the Russian comments by saying, “Of course we are pleased with the decision to cancel some deployments, but we still need to see some sort of guarantees.”
Intelligence Cooperation. US and Russian members both support cooperation between US and Russian intelligence services but, the Russian side claimed that it is not possible to accurately assess whether the current levels are adequate because the participants are no longer in active service.  Further, they cautioned that pushing the services to increase cooperation could backfire, causing the services to eschew the advice of the Elbe Group.  US members felt that cooperation needed to improve, pointing out that the relationship should be at least as direct and frequent as that of the Elbe Group, which has met eight times in two and a half years.  One Russian member said that the level of intelligence cooperation between security services is an indicator of the level of trust between the two countries.
Missing in Action in Afghanistan. Elbe Group member, LTG (ret) Michael Maples, former Director DIA, noted the recent discovery of a Soviet soldier missing since the Soviet Afghan war and suggested that accounting for missing American and Russian persons in Afghanistan is an important joint goal. Former first deputy director of FSB Anatoliy Safonov noted the moral obligation that both countries have to gather information about those who remain unaccounted for and that techniques developed by the United States could be beneficial. For many years, the United States and Russia have jointly worked to account for missing servicemen from the Cold War. The Elbe Group encourages the two countries to renew their commitment to find those still missing and to extend that cooperation to the territory of Afghanistan in an effort to find and account for all the missing military and civilians from our two nations.
“Islamism” (radical extremist Islam). One Russian member suggested that the threat of radical Islamic extremists - what he termed "Islamism" - is one of the most serious threats our two countries face and he recommended the Elbe Group begin a study of the threat at its next meeting.  American members agreed to discuss the threat, but pointed out that the term “Islamism” is not a good translation into English for the threat the Russian participant has in mind, which from an American perspective is better understood as “radical extremist Islam.”  Russian strategists have for a long time described the threat from radical Islam as a “southern arc of instability” from Western China to the Balkans.]  While not agreeing fully with the Russian perspective implied in the characterization of an “arc of instability,” the broader Elbe Group recognizes clear linkages between radical groups in these areas.
For more information on the group’s findings and recommendations, contact BG Kevin Ryan (USA retired), Director of Defense and Intelligence Projects, Belfer Center, tel.: 617-495-7747, fax: 617-495-8963 or