A detainee at the Abu Ghraib Prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, sheds light May 8 on a calendar marking the seven months he has spent in U.S. military custody at the facility. Recent atrocities at the prison by U.S. troops have been roundly condemned, and religious leaders have added their voices to the outcry.

Seeking spirituality
amid war

Navy chaplain Joseph Estabrook
works with personnel from all
services to instill ethical standards

A soldier being trained for war needs to be trained in moral and ethical standards as well as proficiency with weapons, said an island military chaplain who has been raised to a top rank by the pope.

"Spiritual readiness is almost more important than combat readiness; more than knowing how to pull the trigger, to know if and when to pull the trigger," said Navy Capt. Joseph Estabrook, command chaplain at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

"If you want to know what it is to take the spiritual dimension out of the military, look at those photos" of American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, Estabrook said in an interview Thursday.

The 59-year-old Catholic priest has been a Navy chaplain since 1977.

On May 7, Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of the U.S. Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services. He and Monsignor Richard Higgins, chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy, will be ordained bishops July 3 in Washington, D.C. They will join Archbishop Edwin O'Brien in administering the entity responsible for pastoral care of more than 1.4 million Catholics.

The appointment gives Estabrook the "chance to keep working with the people I love," he said. His concerns will continue to be support and religious programs for the military and their families.

He said military personnel who have behaved honorably in the war are victims of the publicity about recent atrocities. Americans' abuse of Iraqi prisoners "is a real mark on us as a country."

Estabrook said the criminal acts of a few should not reflect on "all these guys here who are tremendous heroes." The military men and women who have returned from Iraq duty "have weighed choices, have made great moral decisions, some of the most difficult decisions of their lives, and they did it with standards and sensitivity," he said.

"A two-star admiral chaplain tried to visit that prison and was not allowed," he said of Abu Ghraib prison, scene of prisoner abuse. "When someone doesn't want a chaplain present, that is a red flag that needs to be noticed."

Navy chaplain Capt. Joseph Estabrook, an auxiliary bishop of the U.S. Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, shows a stained-glass design by Duane Preble that will be part of a new Kaneohe chapel.

When Kaneohe Marines return from deployment, they discuss situations and decisions they faced in the war zone through "defuse" sessions. "I was blown away at how these young people, most between 19 and 25 years old, made their decisions," the chaplain said.

Kaneohe base chaplains teach an ongoing "ethical fitness" class to officers and noncommissioned ranks. It explores principles for resolving problems, choices ranging from doing what's best for the greatest number, following the highest sense of justice and rights or doing what you want others to do to you.

A class exercise in facing "moral dilemma" offers multiple choices in dealing with combat situations such as:

» Forcing some captured soldiers to lead Marines through a minefield.

» Directing troops to fire at an enemy fighter pilot who parachuted from his plane after it was hit.

» Accidentally directing artillery fire onto some civilians, killing and wounding about a dozen, but then never reporting the incident.

"It doesn't always have to do with faith," Estabrook said. "You can be an atheist and have a measure of ethics based on philosophy rather than religion."

Estabrook had delayed his impending retirement to see completion of the new $7 million base chapel expected to be finished next March. He proposed the project to replace the old mess hall that houses the current religious center.

"It was supported by the commanding general, went through the DOD (Department of Defense), Hawaii's Congress members got behind it, and it was moved up to this fiscal year," he said.

Besides a main chapel for religious services, there will be a small chapel open 24 hours a day, 14 classrooms and office space for several base chaplains.

An artist's rendering shows what the new $7 million base chapel at Kaneohe is expected to look like when it's finished.

In his office, Estabrook displays the stained-glass window designs by Duane Preble, University of Hawaii art professor emeritus, which combine island imagery and religious symbolism appropriate to the multi-denominational use of the sacristy. For example, an ocean scene also evokes the Biblical story of the Israelites passing through waters of the Red Sea.

Also displayed in Estabrook's office are caps from the dozens of ships he has served on. When he was assigned aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its battle group, the priest would say eight Masses on a Sunday, traveling by helicopter from one ship to another.

"There is a certain vibrance, with the average age of 19, people you would not ordinarily see in a Catholic parish," he said.

"Being in the Navy is one of the most exciting things you can imagine," he added. An assignment at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily brought the opportunity to meet the pope in Rome.

Before joining the Navy, he served for seven years in the diocese of Albany, N.Y. As diocesan family life director, Estabrook was instrumental in founding the Marriage Encounter movement that has spread throughout the nation.

The program, and its offshoot Engaged Encounter, "is intended to foster values of family life," Estabrook said. It was important grounding for his military career.

"As a chaplain, I continued to help families stay together in stressful situations," he said. "In the early days before computers, we had a reading program with fathers reading to their children on tapes and videos. In another, we send the children's religious education books to the deployed spouse who would be part of the family religious education.

"There is no other part of society that demands so much of families," he said. "There is no other child that has to make the sacrifice" of separation because of a parent's job.

The military archdiocese serves 375,000 Catholics in uniform and more than 900,000 family members of active-duty personnel. It also covers Catholics in the Reserve and Coast Guard, in government service overseas or in hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

American Christian leaders and Muslim spokesmen alike decry the degradation, torture and killing of captives in Iraq as violating the beliefs of both religions


Leaders of The National Council of Churches USA and its 36 Protestant and Orthodox member denominations said: "Christians should never identify violence against others with the will of God and should always work to prevent and end it.

"Two central claims of the Christian faith are crucial in our thinking: that every person, as a child of God, is of infinite worth and that all persons, as participants in God's one creation, are related in their humanity and vulnerability. This is why the World Council of Churches has asserted that 'war is contrary to the will of God' -- because it destroys that which God has made sacred.

"In a sinful world, some of us may hold that there may be times when war is a necessary evil," said the American churches in an ecumenical pastoral letter released Tuesday in New York City.

They expressed concern about the accelerating "cycle of violence" in Iraq and called for the U.S. government to change course. They called on the United States "to turn over the transition of authority and postwar reconstruction to the United Nations -- and to recognize U.S. responsibility to contribute to this effort generously through security, economic, and humanitarian support -- not only to bring international legitimacy to the effort, but also to foster any chance for lasting peace."

The leaders of top mainline denominations in the United States urged local churches to read the letter at services.

They said the joint pastoral letter comes "at a time when the threat of violence hangs over the Earth and warfare involving United States forces is increasing in Iraq. We write out of a deep love for this country, but also out of a profound concern at the direction this cycle of violence is taking us. This concern has been brought home to all Americans and indeed the world in the horrific pictures of prisoner abuse.

"We believe, with these things in mind, that the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy must be to build up the whole, interdependent human family and to promote reconciliation whenever possible. Yes, this means standing firmly against all acts of terror, but it also means envisioning a world in which war is truly a last resort.

"Current U.S. foreign policy, however, is not aligned with this principle. Many people see our policy as one based on protection of our country's economic interests narrowly defined, rather than on principles of human rights and justice that would serve our nation's interests in deep and tangible ways. We are convinced that current policy is dangerous for America and the world and will only lead to further violence.

"We, therefore, call for a change of course in Iraq, and we encourage you to do the same. We would ask that members of our churches, as they feel appropriate, contact their respective congressional delegations to urge the U.S. to change course in Iraq."

The leaders said that people may disagree on national policy but that they hope people will work for peace.

"We also urge all of our congregations and parishes to pray not only for the soldiers of this nation, as we surely do, but for all people, military and civilian, caught in this and other cycles of violence. When possible, join in prayer, discussion, and action with ecumenical and interfaith neighbors."

The letter was signed by leaders of Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches in the USA, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Episcopal Church USA, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, International Council of Community Churches, Moravian Church N.P., National Council of Churches USA, National Council of Churches USA Interfaith Relations Commission, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., Swedenborgian Church in North America, United Church of Christ and The United Methodist Church.


Iraqis who beheaded an American civilian violated Muslim religious principles, said a national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group as it started an online petition drive for Muslims to disavow violent terrorist acts.

"We wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent," said the petition started Thursday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam," it says. "We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."

The petition titled "Not in the Name of Islam" is on the council Web site,

"People of all faiths must do whatever they can to help end the downward spiral of mutual hostility and hatred that is engulfing our world," said CAIR chairman Omar Ahmad.

"Just as a handful of American soldiers committing torturous war crimes do not represent the sense and sensibilities of the vast majority of Americans, it is important to judge Muslims by the same standards," said CAIR executives Parvez Ahmed and Arsalan Iftikhar in a commentary released by America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, based in Washington, D.C.

Ahmed is a national board member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Iftikhar is the director of legal affairs. They wrote:

"Just as America cannot be judged through the lens of its often misguided foreign policy or torturous acts of American soldiers, the world of Islam should not be held accountable for the un-Islamic and barbaric deeds of a minuscule minority of more than a billion Muslims.

"For obvious reasons, the Abu Ghraib torture is inflaming Muslim passions around the world. The passions are being inflamed domestically as more Americans are viewing the gruesome, despicable and everlasting images of Nicholas Berg's execution. The potential for continued misunderstanding between the Muslim world and America is reaching troubling proportions."

"Muslims are also bound by a hallmark ethical and moral code. A Muslim who violates the commandments of God in the Quran or those of the prophet Muhammad must also be held accountable.

"When outlining the rules of engagement for wartime, the Prophet Muhammad said on numerous occasions:

» Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman.

» Do not kill the monks in monasteries.

» Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.

» Do not attack a wounded person.

» No prisoner should be put to the sword.

"Prophet Muhammad also prohibited the killing of anyone who is in captivity and also ordered people not to pillage residential areas or cultivated fields during war. He outlawed the mutilating of the corpses of enemies. These clear and concise statements make any violation of these edicts during wartime a clear violation of core Islamic principles.

"Despite such clear injunctions, some Muslims who claim to be killing in the name of Islam are in fact completely defiling its essence. The extremists and militants who attempt to hide behind the veneer of Islam are, in reality, openly violating many of its core teachings.

"Just as the cruel torture of Iraqis has been universally condemned by people of all faith, the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide are sickened and condemn Berg's horrific death as inherently shocking, against all teachings of Islam and universally deplored by all spiritual, caring and decent human beings.

"Unspeakable and appalling acts perpetrated by followers of any religion should be unanimously condemned as fundamentally irreligious and unpatriotic crimes."

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