Tag Archives: Ray Towey

Court Report: Independent Catholic News September 2012

3 activists who took part in actions at MoD

The three offered clear and moving accounts of their peace actions at the Ministry of Defence during Holy Week 2012 when they marked the building with blessed charcoal using words such as ‘Trident Crucifies the Poor’ and ‘Disarm Trident’. Reports from arresting officers were read out in court which affirmed that there actions had been
totally nonviolent and that they had not resisted arrest in any way. While not disputing the fact of their action, they all argued that they had lawful excuse and moral convictions for what they did.

Twenty-five supporters joined Dr Ray Towey, 68, Henrietta Cullinan, 50, and Katrina Alton , 44, for a time of prayer outside Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court today before a three-hour hearing which found them guilty of causing criminal damage.

Ray, Henrietta and Katrina explained the relevance of the time and symbols used: Lent, a time for reflection and repentance at both personal and community levels and charcoal, a known symbol of that repentance that is used within the Christian faith community. The protection of life and people was at the heart of their actions and they all stated that these were more important than property or buildings. Their intention in marking the Ministry of Defence building was to engage the Ministry and those who work there in critical reflection on the UK’s nuclear defence policy and the Trident programme in particular in order to change it and prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used.

Judge Susan Williams acknowledged her understanding of this in her questioning of Ray Towey, and again in her summing up saying that these were profound means used to highlight the folly of humankind.

The three, who defended themselves, were given substantial time to present their own evidence and outline why they did what they did. The Judge said that she needed a good amount of time to reflect on what she had heard and the legal implications and adjourned the hearing for almost two hours.

Before adjournment, Ray Towey made a short intervention inviting the Judge to discharge them and to stand outside the normal boundaries of the legal institution and set a precedent. On her return she gave a fulsome summary – showing that she had listened with great care to all that she had heard – but ultimately finding them guilty of criminal damage. They were each charged with paying £200 court costs. While the Ministry of Defence had put forward a claim for £400 cleaning costs the Judge refused to enforce this.

The three were given an absolute discharge. All of them made it clear that they could not in conscience pay the court costs.

Their action was supported by the London Catholic Worker, Catholic Peace Action and Pax Christi.

For Ray Towey the outcome of this trial would be finalised on 24 June 2014 when he was called to attend Camberwell Magistrates Court to explain why he had not paid the court £200 costs. He had during this time several letters from bailiffs requesting the money and he had replied that as a Christian to him nuclear weapons were immoral and that he could not in conscience pay the court as he considered his actions in 2012 justified and therefore he was not guilty. Usually this defence is not accepted and a prison sentence of about 7 days would be expected. The judge listened to his explanation and replied that she would not accept this refusal but would give him more time to pay. He asked her not to delay her judgement as he was not going to pay and he wished to resolve the issue that day. She told him to go away and consider payment. He therefore left the court disappointed that the issue still remained unresolved. As he was descending the stairs leading to the exit the Clerk of the Court called out to him to return to the court as there was now a possibility of another outcome which might be beneficial to him. On return to the court the Judge sentence him to one day in jail. A one day sentence means that he was confined to the court till the end of business that day. It is in effect a symbolic sentence which meant he had no longer any need of paying the costs and would be free that day to go home. Ray Towey thanked her when the court rose and went home as a free person.

Homily for Franz Jagerstatter Memorial Service

This was delivered as the homily on 9 August 2018 in the Crypt Chapel of Westminster Cathedral London by Ray Towey for the Franz Jagerstatter Memorial Service arranged by Pax Christi


The story is simple, a peasant farmer in Austria is conscripted to fight for Hitler, refuses claiming being a Catholic and being a soldier in Hitler’s army is incompatible so they kill him to preserve military morale. In 1943 German military morale was in serious jeopardy. The battle of Stalingrad had been lost.

The German state needed men at the eastern front. Franz was isolated in the Church, in the village, in his country. To his knowledge then no-one had taken a stand like this. I use the word peasant farmer purposefully not so often used now about Franz, to us it has negative connotations but the Gospel writer is clear about what is a negative:

I thank you Father Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to children. (Luke ch10: 21)

This Gospel passage is uneasy reading because ever since I entered formal education I have striven to be someone who is both wise and learned. To the Gospel writer that comfortable self-image or illusion was an obstacle that Franz did not have.

In 1982 I returned from 2 years in a mission hospital in Nigeria. The overwhelming experience of working as a doctor in Africa is watching helplessly the premature death of scores from diseases easily preventable by a little money or curable by modest means.

This remains the global injustice of our time, so the injustice of the Falklands invasion at that time was minor in comparison and I could see no need for further human sacrifice. There was enough premature death in the world, more than enough in Africa alone.

And so, the armada travelled to the South Atlantic to right the wrong bringing with it a military hospital well equipped and I thought why not just make a small detour and share a few drugs from the pharmacy, a few bottles from the blood bank, Nigeria is close by to the east. We won’t delay you long, but don’t forget Sierra Leone, Ghana, we have friends there too, and what harm if we do delay you long?

Even a child could see the need but the wise and learned had other plans.

There was worse to come. The cruise missiles in Greenham Common were an essential counter to the SS20s of the Soviets and the Pershing 2s in Europe would give us the superiority we needed to keep our Christian culture safe and the Church at the highest level then was ambiguous.

What was this doctrine of nuclear deterrence, a necessary modern moral relativism for the Church or a new heresy, is that too strong a word and who was for the burning? everyone? and so we asked, where do we stand and we made a stand and not like Franz, alone, but we were few. Like Dorothy Day we had the nerve to call ourselves Catholic and thereby Catholic Peace Action. We were non-violent but did not keep the law and counted jail time as a duty or was it a spiritual pride in the new indulgences? were we the orthodox or the heterodox? Time would tell.

We added our small voice to others in and out of the Church. We shared with a few of our own bishops but at the time like Franz were not affirmed and learnt how to be strangers in our communities, our Church and country which we loved. But let me not forget Bishop Gumbleton from Detroit and Pax Christi who wrote us a good character witness letter for our bad disobedient behaviour which we copied for the court, usually to no avail, so unlike Franz we were not alone but we were few.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan has a reflection on Franz written some years before Franz’s beatification:

“As for Franz he will not go away, he will not go away from the Church that sent him on his way alone.

His way, which should have been the way of the Church.

So he lingers half unwelcome……….”

After the war Franz’s name was added to the memorial in his parish cemetery of those who had died for Austria but it was secretly erased. For some in his village his name was most unwelcome.

In his own diocese of Linz 40 priests were sent to concentration camps and 11 died. In the Archdiocese of Vienna which was twice the size of Linz 9 priests were sent to concentration camps and 1 died. There was resistance in the Church to the Nazi regime but it was thin and patchy. One of his parish priests had been banned from the parish by the regime for delivering an anti-Nazi sermon and even he advised him accept the conscription, he saw his bishop who advised the same.

When the wise and learned advised him to fight for Hitler was he choosing the way of suicide? This was his terrible deep spiritual anguish.

When he was transferred to the Berlin prison he met with the prison chaplain who related to him the case of an Austrian priest Fr.Reinisch who had refused to take the oath to Hitler and was executed a year before. Fr.Reinisch had been conscripted to the medical corps but still refused the oath stating that he opposed the Nazi world view which had resulted in murder, the elimination of the mentally disabled, forced sterilisation, the illegal annexation of Austria. The chaplain relates that Franz breathed a sigh of relief and was greatly encouraged and said, “l can’t be on the wrong path after all, if even a priest has decided the same and has gone to his death for it then it’s all right for me to do it too.”

I think this was the first time he had heard of anyone refusing conscription for Christian reasons and it suggests that even at this late stage he was still in need of more support that his stand was correct and not a suicide.

After the war the search for justice began but there were to be dispensations, if you had the secrets of the VI and V2 rockets there was an amnesty. The learned and the wise needed you, and a new and comfortable life in the West or the East guaranteed. These wonderous Nazi indiscriminate weapons of terror had their uses. The VI became cruise missiles and the V2 ballistic missiles, just add a nuclear warhead when required.

And so… Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki….we know who won the battles but who won the values?

In 1941 while doing his military service after his second call up Franz writes, “Ybbs is a beautiful town.. there’s quite a large mental asylum here, which used to be full of patients but now probably even the mad have become sane, because there are no longer very many of them in the asylum. My dear wife there must be some truth in what you told me once about what’s happening to these people.

Franz and Franziska Jagerstatter
Franz and Franziska Jagerstatter

In May 1943 Franziska writes to Franz of the sudden death of a disabled child who had been put in a home for the disabled. Hundreds of thousands of disabled children, psychiatric patients, mentally disabled adults, Downs syndrome children were killed during the war. Bishop von Galen of Munster was a vociferous opponent of this Action T4 euthanasia programme and was placed under virtual house arrest in 1941.

In Europe these days Downs syndrome is becoming a rarity. For them we have developed our own final solution.

And what of us? The state may not need us in uniform but it still needs our obedience or is it just our silence?

But now it will never be so hard because we have Franz. Thank you, Franz from the bottom of my heart for making my small journey clearer, less lonely, more loyal, more forgiving and with no place for bitterness.

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Report on Pax Christi conference, Italy, May 1986

1986-05-Report-on-Pax-Christi-conference-Italy

In May of this year (1986), Catholic Peace Action was invited to send two representatives to the International meeting of Pax Christi to present a workshop on civil disobedience.

Carmel and Ray went on behalf of the group to the conference, which took place in Vincenza, Italy. We offer you the content of what they shared in their workshop.

_______________________________________________________________________

I would like to begin by introducing ourselves. My name is Carmel Martin and the other member of CPA here with me is Ray Towey. We have been asked to make a contribution on the subject of civil disobedience. We have been described as experts but we are not. If we were we wouldn’t be so nervous! We are members of a group that has existed since the summer of 1982 and who are trying to discover what it means to be faithful in the nuclear age. I will give a brief background of the group. Ray will then reflect on the subjects of civil disobedience, communication with those directly involved with war preparations, and the Church; I will then close with some thoughts on how we express our faith at the Ministry of Defence, and the consequences.

The formation of CPA occurred after a number of individuals had met during periods of pilgrimage, prayer and fasting. Our meeting we feel was a gift from God. There were seven of us who after some discussion and prayer had decided to be more fully committed to nonviolence, compassion for each other and to preparations for witness against the nuclear threat by engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.

We agreed that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is incompatible with the will of God, and in regard to nuclear war preparations, civil disobedience is Divine obedience.

At our first few meetings we did not give ourselves a time limit as to when we would engage in civil disobedience. We wanted to remain open to the Holy Spirit.

Civil disobedience is a spiritual calling and a matter of discernment. In fact the process of discernment, and personal and group spiritual preparations prior to civil disobedience are as important as the action itself.

Since April 1983 we have been involved in nine acts of civil disobedience, which have resulted in over 50 arrests and 140 days in prison. The other part of our peace work involves communicating with the workers of the Ministry of Defence. Since August 1983 we have given the workers a message through a twice-monthly leaflet which expresses our concerns on peace, disarmament and their work.

Our group is not just concerned with action but with each other. We meet regularly not only to plan the next action but to share a meal, pray, discuss things and enjoy each other’s company. Two of the original members are no longer with us and others have joined and stayed for various lengths of time. We are an affinity group not a membership organisation. However we do put out a newsletter and our supporters help us through prayer, financial contributions and joining us at the Ministry of Defence in the work of communication and during our days of civil disobedience. More recently, we have started open/public meetings for the purpose of bringing others more closely into the prayer and spirit of the work.

Ray made his contribution at this point:

My name is Ray Towey. I work as a fulltime hospital doctor in London. I have been a doctor for 19 years and for 3 years I worked in Africa of which two were spent at a Catholic Mission Hospital.

As Etienne said in his preaching so eloquently this morning at Mass, my own exposure to the diseases of poverty have had a deep effect upon me, and my understanding of the Church’s option for the love of the poor, Christian peace making and the contribution of lay missionaries to the growth of the Church. Over the last 2 and a-half years I have been arrested by the police 5 times and I have been sent to prison for 3 short prison sentences. It is from this situation I wish to give you my reflections.

Catholic Peace Action is essentially a response by a small group Of Christians who have come to the realisation that a monstrous evil has developed within their country, namely sincere plans for the use of nuclear weapons, that is sincere plans for nuclear genocide. The deployment of Cruise missiles in 1983, the planned building of the Trident submarines and the refusal to support a comprehensive test ban treaty, have all exposed the failure to commit our country to a process of nuclear disarmament which the teaching of the  Church clearly demands.

We see the policy of deterrence as incompatible with the Gospel values, and a blasphemous denial of Jesus as the Lord of history. In our society the willingness to engage in nuclear war has put the security of the state above all moral considerations. When the state assumes such awesome and immoral intentions, which has been described as idolatrous, the Christian community to be true and faithful to its vision of God’s will for humankind, must respond, speak out and preach the Gospel. Nuclear weapon states have a moral posture, which is fundamentally flawed and consequently forfeit the total obedience of their citizens. CiviI disobedience is an attempt to speak out with clarity in a way which appropriately reflects the seriousness of our situation. Nuclear weapons are protected by secrecy and the legal framework of the state. Laws which in themselves are not immoral, are used by the state to protect a policy of nuclear genocide.

The policy itself is protected and paid for by a process of normal good citizenship, the payment of taxes and the rights of property and land. Civil disobedience challenges the moral basis of laws which protect nuclear weapons and nuclear war planning. It exposes the moral crises we are in and distances those who participate from complicity in the nuclear system of values. It draws on the prophetic ministry of the Church in exposing the slow and subtle way in which the state has entrapped the Church within its own system of values.

The preaching of the Gospel of non-violence and the unity of all humankind, which nuclear weapons deny, must, be done not under the conditions or control of the nuclear weapons state but in opposition to and in non-violent confrontation with the nuclear system of values. To us civil disobedience is an open clear non-violent breaking of certain laws which place us in direct confrontation with the authorities of the nuclear weapons state.

Combined with civil disobedience, dialogue with the supporters of nuclear deterrence is an acknowledgement of both the need and the possibility of conversion to peace. Dialogue is an essential requirement in respecting the dignity and humanity of our opponent. Civil disobedience without dialogue is a cynical and flawed appreciation of the humanity of our opponent to understand and choose the non-violent alternative. However dialogue without civil disobedience does not fully relate to the danger we are in, the moral crises which surrounds us, and the capacity we have with trusting obedience in God to confront the values of the nuclear state. Civil disobedience re-establishes the authority of the Church, which transcends human laws at a time when human laws protect the means of genocide.

“Resistance (civil disobedience) without dialogue is cynical, dialogue without resistance is sentimental” (Jim Douglas Ground Zero Community USA)

For us dialogue involves twice-monthly legal leafleting of the workers as they enter the Ministry of Defence in the morning. This persistent twice-monthly presence continued now for over two years has made us well known to the workers. Many of the workers are keen to receive our leaflets, they understand our position and a very few communicate back to us. We have built up also a respect with the police who arrest us and it is not unusual for us to engage in discussions on the nature of deterrence, the limitations of obedience to the law and the reasons for Christian resistance. In the courts also we have established a moral presence and a mutual respect where our motives and values are discussed. We see these as signs of hope in the capacity of society to begin to make a change of heart to peace and disarmament.

The place in which we choose to break the law is the headquarters of our military planning the Ministry of Defence in central London. It represents the centre of our country’s nuclear war planning. Everyone in our group live near central London and for most of us this is our nearest nuclear war planning establishment.

Scattered throughout Europe all of us live in close proximity to the places for nuclear genocide and all of us could begin to challenge the military communities with the values that the Christian communities profess.

We are not saying that civil disobedience is the only way to proclaim the Gospel of Peace in a nuclear weapons state. The failure of my country to commit itself to a plan for nuclear disarmament and its continued preparations for the use of nuclear weapons breaks the conditions for nuclear deterrence demanded by current Church teaching.

The opportunity for the Church to engage with this situation within the legal framework of the state has substantially not been made.

Our acts of civil disobedience are a prophetic call to take these legal opportunities, which could awake the consciences of many both in the Church and outside the Church. What is at stake for the Christian in a nuclear weapons state is the authentic life of the Church itself in our time “The Church seeks but a solitary goal, to carry forward the work Of Christ himself.” (Gaudium et Spes.)

The Church is called to be a living witness of Christ in the world, a community of love open to the whole world. If the Church does not extricate itself from any possible support for nuclear genocide then its mission as a light to the world is fundamentally threatened and when the missionary life of the Church is threatened the life of the Church itself is at risk.

We see our actions as a call to renewal in the life of the Church so that Christ will be seen more clearly in the world. We see our actions as rebuilding the Church at its very roots, as a call to conversion and as establishing the authority and identity of the Church in our own society.

We have begun a dialogue with a small number of our own bishops to seek their support and to convey our own vision for their discernment. We dialogue and reflect with Christian peace activists of other traditions to share and reflect where the Holy Spirit is leading us. We see real signs of conversion to peace both in and outside Church structures, which gives us strength in our non-violent choice and hope.

–End of Ray’s presentation–

Carmel continued with her presentation at this point:

Because our acts of civil disobedience/Divine obedience are firmly rooted in our belief in God, as members of the Catholic Church we use the symbols of our faith when we go to the Ministry of Defence. Christians working for peace need to be able to use the forms and symbols of religious observances to help them confront the violence and injustice of our day.

Through the use of religious symbols our witness and message are graphically conveyed with a clarity and strength that words alone could never match.  Involving religious forms and symbols outside the confines of the church buildings has a three-fold effect.

The first is to help the individual resister in his or her particular witness. Faith is strengthened when the forms and symbols of faith are near and in use. Secondly, they convey to a largely indifferent and sometimes hostile public that something more than just a political statement is being made. And thirdly, they challenge the Church and other members of the Church to move away from a solely individualistic and enclosed view of religion.

For these reasons and others we have always engaged in civil disobedience at the Ministry of Defence in the context of a liturgy and sometimes on significant liturgical dates e.g. Ash Wednesday.

The forms and symbols of our faith have included prayer, song, readings from the Bible, preaching, the rosary, ashes, blood, a cross and bread. For us and our supporters such forms and symbols are given greater authenticity and deeper meaning when used in close proximity to symbols of death and violence, and by people who are taking risks and willing to suffer for the cause of peace.

To give one example: For the past three years we have been involved in an Ash Wednesday service at the Ministry of Defence. We meet first to pray, bless the ashes and read the bible. We mark our own foreheads (with ash) saying the traditional: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospels.’ We then walk to the Ministry of Defence building where with charcoal we mark the façade with a cross or the word “repent”. Those who mark the building are arrested and the others continue with the liturgy. By such actions we are calling ourselves and our nation to personal and corporate repentance.

By using the traditional forms and symbols of our faith we are saying to our Church and fellow Christians that this is one place where the Church should be on Ash Wednesday; and this is one way the Church should behave on Ash Wednesday.

Indeed, because we stand within our tradition we are saying that we are Church and doing our duty as Christians/Catholics.

Our work resulted in arrests, court appearances, and imprisonment, but these consequences would be completely without significance if they did not indicate a deeper spiritual struggle to live more non-violently and faithfully. For nonviolence is not confined to peace work at the Ministry of Defence but involves questions of lifestyle, the bringing up of children, and assisting the poor. The act of civil disobedience and all that follows is an expression of my struggle to achieve a more complete disarmament and conversion of heart. This conversion does not come easily.

My personal involvement in civil disobedience, and I have risked arrest five times, were acts of despair for the life of this world and my children’s future. (I have two small children and as you can tell, one on the way). I felt and still feel the need to somehow stand in the way of nuclear war preparations.  But because of the risks I have taken my despair has decreased and I have experienced a renewal of faith and hope.

When one looks at the state of the world and especially the nuclear arms race there can be little reason for optimism. But hope is a gift from God. It is tangible and it is made more abundant through the doing of justice and the making of peace.

Real hope generates hope. Our experience is not unique. In our relationship with friends, the police, prosecutors, and magistrates we have seen a conversion of heart that simply could not have taken place had we confined our peace witness to words and legal, non-arrestable actions. This conversion comes through risking and suffering done in the spirit non-violence.

Some Defence workers, prosecutors and police have said they agree with us. When one of our members went to prison, the first nun since the reformation to be imprisoned for an act of conscience, she received over 1,000 letters of support from all over the country.   Here was a church acting out the hope it so often proclaims. Despite what I have just said, engaging in civil disobedience is still extremely difficult for me.

A supporter of ours warned us two years ago that we as a group are open to charges of conspiracy and therefore could receive heavy fines and long prison sentences. Ray responded by saying: ‘The Church should be a conspiracy for peace.’ We have continued our conspiratorial ways and encouraged others to join us or form their own groups of prayer and resistance. It is these communities that will successfully confront military madness and bring us back from the nuclear abyss. Only when Christians make absolutely clear their total opposition to nuclear war preparations will the pseudo-Christian arguments which politicians and militarists use to justify their policies be exposed for what they are: arguments for genocide. In a generally wealthy and comfortable society the taking up of the cross of militarism is an option that it too easily ignored by our Church and fellow Christians. However, communities of prayer and resistance will be able to survive social penalties and Church silence and build a network that will transform both.

Constant conversion and persistent struggle will turn the tide. After an act of civil disobedience last August 9th, the police inspector, for the first time in 2 and a-half years, sat down with those of us he had arrested and asked, “why?”

The day will come and may it come soon, when heads of governments of all nuclear weapons states, will ask Cardinals and Bishops the same question: “Why are the people of your Church so disobedient?”

For God’s sake peace brothers

Once again Peace Sunday is being commemorated in churches up and down the country. To mark the occasion Dr Ray Towey explains how non-violent civil disobedience can bring about a world `no-go’ area for nuclear armaments.

IN A NUCLEAR weapons state Christians who pray for peace on Peace Sunday should consider the possible consequences. Prayer has a way of leading to action and to me this has resulted in three sentences to Pentonville Prison, What is it that moves Christians who are otherwise quiet and law abiding citizens to acts of non-violent civil disobedience for peace? It is because they have realised that in their country something is happening which is monstrously evil — the sincere plans for nuclear war with which many other Christians are scandalously implicated. To be faithful therefore I these normally law abiding people must speak out and act.

The immorality of nuclear deterrence has been succinctly described by the Scottish bishops in their 1985 peace message: “If it is immoral to use these weapons, it is also immoral to threaten their use.”

The Church, however, is more than a set of moral principles. The church is called to be a community of love, a living witness of Christ in the world. Each of us by our baptism are called to be missionaries and the world learns of Christ by the way we live the Gospel values.

In what sense can a genuine threat of nuclear genocide be compatible with proclaiming the Good News of Christ? If the Church does not clearly extricate itself from any possible support for preparations for nuclear genocide then its mission as a light to the world is fundamentally threatened and when the missionary life of the Church is threatened, the life of the Church itself is at risk.

Our nuclear weapons destroy our own spiritual life and Christian witness before they destroy our enemies’ physical life.

The intention to use nuclear weapons violates-God’s law and plan for creation. Nuclear weapon states have a moral posture which is fundamentally flawed and consequently forfeit the total obedience of their citizens. Christians in a nuclear state have a responsibility to stand in the way of preparations for genocide.

Nuclear weapons are protected by secrecy and the legal framework of the state. Engaging in non-violent civil disobedience challenges the moral basis of the laws which protect nuclear weapons, exposes the moral crises we are in and effectively distances the Christian from any complicity with the nuclear system of values. It withdraws consent and symbolically demonstrates the choices we have to make.

Done in a Christian nonviolent way and in a spirit of evangelisation and faith, Christian civil disobedience has a real power of conversion. It follows a line witness of Franz Jagerstatter and the life and example of Dorothy Day. In this sense non-violent civil disobedience is Christian obedience. For me it has resulted in three arrests and three prison sentences.

During one of my trials in June 1984, Bishop Gumbleton, Vice-President of Pax Christi International, sent a strong letter of support on behalf of a co-defendent, writing that she had acted sincerely and faithfully as a Catholic in her non-violent civil disobedience.

When Bishop Emerson Moor auxiliary in New York, was arrested on December 5 1984 while illegally blockading the South African consultate in New York, he became the first Catholic bishop in the United states ever to be arrested for an act of civil disobedience. The issue in this case was the current genocide of apartheid and not nuclear genocide, but the principles are comparable. Archbishop O’Connor of New York defended the action of his auxiliary bishop, pointing out that there must be instances when an illegal act is seen as “the only way to bring about the revocation or modification of intrinsically immoral law.”

The non-violent witness against nuclear weapons has been going on longest in the United States with thousands of people going through the courts and prison. In our own country Christian civil disobedience is going to be a continued Christian calling while we remain a nuclear weapons state.

We live in a time when the sanctity of human life is everywhere under challenge. The Church has spoken out courageously for the life of the unborn child and for the protection of the human embryo. We should not hesitate now to repudiate and resist any system of values which can contemplate the killing of millions of human beings in the name of national security.

Dr Towey is a member of Pax Christi and Catholic Peace Action as well us a consultant anaesthetist at a London teaching hospital.  This was first published in the Catholic Herald, 1 February 1985.

Prison conditions 1984

Sir, Dr.Richard Smith’s series of articles on the State of the prisons highlights a topic of genuine concern for the medical profession. Following an act of  civil disobedience as part of the Christian Peace Movement and my subsequent refusal to cooperate with a binding order to keep the “peace” I had occasion to experience at first hand, as a prisoner, conditions in Pentonville Prison for seven days. The lack of adequate hygiene exposes prisoners to potential medical risks as well as transgressing basic humane standards.

As a civil prisoner I had the right to wear my own clothes but once that right is taken association with with other prisoners is more restricted and no change of clothes or pyjamas is allowed.

I was offered one shower on the first night and another on the morning of release. Despite frequent requests I was unable to obtain a shower or bath during the five whole days of my imprisonment. This is merely a symptom of the gross lack of facilities and overcrowding in prisons and not due to any lack of correct behaviour on the of the prison officers, who did their best in diffcult conditions.

I was totally confined to my cell from 4 pm until 8 am the next day. A pot for urine is provided, and at 8 am the slopping out procedure is carried out. Although I was alone, most prisoners share two to a cell which is about six paces by three. The pots for urine to my knowledge were never cleaned. The room in which the slopping out procedure is carried out is a little larger than a cell and contains a sluice, a flush toilet, a washbasin, a urinal, and a hot and a cold water tap. The cold water tap is the water supply for the prisoners in that area. The hot water tap is generally the place for washing the plastic plates and mugs of the prisoners. The water runs directly into a drain in the floor, there is no sink, and washing detergent is not provided. Prisoners therefore often washed their plates and mugs by simply passing them through this stream of hot water a few times while at the same time and in close proximity urine was being slopped out; the urinal was being used, as was the toilet, which was separated from this area only by a door about five foot in height. There were often queues to use all amenities in this confined space. The hand basin was never used as there was no soap or towel there to wash one’s hands and the basin itself was often dirty. The collecting of clean water and the washing of plates and mugs are therefore carried out in an area of potential cross infection and in an atmosphere smelling of faeces and urine. Plates were sometimes washed in an adjoining room where there was hot water and a sink but it was left to the prison officers’ discretion as to whether this room was opened or not. Although it is obvious that many prisoners are from sections of the community that suffer major social deprivations, the prisoners often viewed their conditions in prison as outside normal human standards of our society. Major improvements in hygiene could be made without enormous financial investment if a policy was instituted to separate the facilities for washing plates and collecting water from the sluice and toilets and to improve handwashing facilities. Prison doctors themselves have raised doubts about basic hygiene in prisons (1), and the need for research on this topic is very pressing (14 January, p 129). It seems a small request that basic primary health care should be in our prisons; this would also go some little way towards making conditions for prisoners more humane.

London SW4

(1) Anonymous. Curb on jail protest doctor 1983 November 7 The Times