National Catholic leaders issue joint statement in solidarity with those facing COVID-19 behind bars
(Washington, DC) Five United States Conference of Catholic Bishops committee chairmen, prominent men and women religious, and national lay leaders representing key Catholic organizations released a joint letter Wednesday in response to the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic within U.S. prisons, jails, and detention and reentry centers.
The Statement of Solidarity: A Catholic Response to COVID-19 Behind Bars conveys a clear message of unity with “currently and formerly incarcerated and detained individuals, their loved ones, as well as those who are charged with their care and well-being.” It urges political leaders to “make all efforts to ensure the health, safety, and spiritual well-being of those inside, including correctional and detention staff.” Additional organizations and individuals are invited to sign on.
“The challenges brought by COVID-19 are unprecedented. We came together as a Catholic community to voice our collective solidarity with individuals living and working behind bars who are suffering from the coronavirus pandemic in wholly unique ways,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network and among the statement’s 14 original signers.
Reports show that more than 25,000 incarcerated or detained individuals and facility staff have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 13, 2020; at least 370 have died. The risk of infection in prisons, jails, and detention centers outpaces that of the general population, in part due to under-resourced medical facilities and limited capacity for isolation inside.
The Statement of Solidarity calls attention to these disparities and offers Pope Francis’ reminder that "there are no 'throwaway lives.'"
“We cannot simply stand by when experiencing COVID-19 behind bars could, for some, mean a de facto death sentence,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “Preserving the health and dignity of incarcerated and detained people must not be forgotten.”
The letter’s signers are as follows:
- Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
- Most Rev. Mario E. Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration
- Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux and Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism
- Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop Emeritus of Tucson and Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service
- Most Rev. Nelson J. Pérez, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church
- Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, President & CEO of the Catholic Health Association
- Sister Donna Markham, OP, Ph.D., President & CEO of Catholic Charities USA
- Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, M.T.S., Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network
- Karen Clifton, MDiv, Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition
- Mary Tyler Curtis, Executive Director of Dismas Ministry
- Very Reverend Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J., President of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
- David Lichter, DMin, Executive Director of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains
- Mike McGarry and Collins Whitfield, Co-Chairs of the Apostolate for the North American Prison Ministry Apostolate of the Order of Malta
Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.
CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network.