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June 17 2011 £1.50 (Republic of Ireland €1.80)
Catholic prison chaplains fear cuts
Church in talks with Government after resignation of principal Catholic prison chaplain
BY ED WEST
FEARS are mounting that statefunded Catholic prison chaplaincies could be under threat after England’s most senior chaplain resigned in a row over his role.
Mgr Malachy Keegan resigned as principal Catholic chaplain at the chaplaincy headquarters of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) after he was told that the restructured post would allow him to spend just 10 to 20 per cent of his time with Catholic chaplains, and the rest with chaplains of other faiths.
Bishop Terence Brain of Salford said the move would change the position into a “generic management role” that conflicts with the Church’s view of the prison chaplain and his pastoral responsibilities. The bishop also said that NOMS made the decision unilaterally and without consultation.
Mgr Keegan left the position in March, and although there are no immediate plans to change the role of other chaplains, the Church fears that the change in Mgr Keegan’s role may signal attempts to alter that of Catholic prison chaplains generally and to water down their distinctive identity. It is also concerned that individual prison governors may take it as a green light to scale down chaplaincy roles.
The bishops’ conference is currently holding talks with Ministry of Justice officials over the role of prison chaplains amid fears that the Government may wish, for financial or ideological reasons, to introduce “generic” chaplains who would deal with the needs of all religious believers in prison. Catholic chaplains would then be brought in every so often to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments, leaving Catholic prisoners in the care of
Catholic chaplaincies in prisons such as Wormwood Scrubs in west London could be under threat by attempts to create a single ‘generic’ chaplaincy
the generic chaplain. It is believed that at least one senior figure “high up” in the Ministry of Justice is keen to cut back on prison chaplaincies. But a Church source said this week: “Hopefully they can be persuaded [otherwise].”
Catholic prisoners who do not have access to a Catholic chaplain could conceivably use the European Convention on Human Rights to force the Government to allow them access.
Last October Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster strongly criticised the idea of generic chaplaincy at the Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture at Brixton Prison in south London.
He said: “In dealing with the whole person, inside prison or outside, we have to respect who they are. For Catholics, that means that the help, advice, or guidance we offer can only be in the context of the Church’s teachings and sacraments. There are some today who seem to see the future with some sort of ‘generic chaplaincy’, providing spiritual support irrespective of the church family of the person, as part of a package of care and rehabilitation to all. That is, of course, valuable, and no chaplain would or should turn away any who seeks help. But where I part company from such thinking is in the idea that a generic approach can ever be respectful or sufficient.
“The Catholic prisoner is still part of the Catholic diocese... and the Catholic chaplain brings a unique perspective: he is the instrument of sacramental graces that, quite simply, no one else can provide. Catholic prisoners are entitled to no less. And it is our duty as bishops to make sure that they get it. However widely our pastoral care may be available – and none of us would turn away anyone in need – the principal ministry of any prison chaplain must be to those whose faith he is sent to support. The same principles apply, with equal force, to any other religion. I would expect to see their integrity similarly respected and supported. Prisoners do not have much; their religious identity is important to them. It is a fundamental right which should be respected.”
A 2009 inspection report on conditions at Belmarsh prison in south-east London said Catholic prisoners were forced to choose between “kit change or association”, referring to time when prisoners are issued with replacement bedding and allowed free time with other prisoners, and going to Mass.
Some observers suggest that Catholic chaplains are underfunded compared to those of other faiths, including Islamic chaplains. The Government has made combating the radicalisation of Muslim prisoners a priority as part of the Prevent anti-extremism programme. Muslims account for over 10 per cent of prisoners in British jails, and it is believed that 800 of Britain’s 8,000 Muslim prisoners are violently radical.
Mgr Keegan is now helping to train around 150 Catholic fulltime and part-time chaplains for the bishops’ conference in a temporary role, paid for by a private donor.
Mgr Keegan declined to comment, but a Prison Service spokeswoman said: “The Prison Service is required and committed to ensuring provision to meet the religious needs of prisoners of all faiths, including access to corporate worship services.
“All prisons have multi-faith chaplaincy teams ... the services of all religions are appropriately staffed to ensure the spiritual needs of all prisoners are met.” Editorial comment: Page 13
Controversial RE textbooks to be replaced in English dioceses BY RACHEL OBORDO
THE BISHOP of Salford has ordered that by next year schools in the diocese must replace RE textbooks with those produced by the Catholic Truth Society.
The primary school textbook Here I Am and the secondary school textbook Icons are to be scrapped in what observers believe is a significant shift. The new course, The Way, The Truth and the Life, produced by the
CTS, is said by its supporters to be more orthodox in its approach.
Other dioceses are to do the same, with neighbouring Diocese of Shrewsbury planning to dispense with the old textbooks and syllabuses also.
Fr David Roberts, director of the education vicariate in Shrewsbury, said the main reason for replacing the textbooks was an “attempt to find an appropriate programme for schools”.
“We want a clear focus on the content of faith, as well as appropriate teaching,” he said. “It’s all about striking a balance between the two.”
Both textbooks have been hugely controversial and much criticised in the past.
Michael O’Brien, a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Educator ’s Resource Centre, suggested that Here I Am “robs the child’s world of mystery, and makes it not quite so interesting to search for the meaning of things”.
The over-simplification, which omits basic theology from its pages, risks a misunderstanding of the Church’s teachings, he claimed, adding that the authors seemed overly keen on “demythologising” the faith.
“The child is informed that baptism is primarily an ‘invitation’ to enter the community of faith,” he said. “No mention here of liberation from Original Sin and death.” Letters: Page 13
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The Pope becomes a comic book hero BY STAFF REPORTER
August during World Youth Day in Madrid.
MOVE over Spider-Man. Here come some new comic-book heroes, such as Pope Benedict XVI, St Paul and Old Testament figure Judith.
They are the stars of new manga books, a Japanese genre of comic books that has grown in recent years.
A 32-page Pope Benedict comic will be distributed in
Jonathan Lin, who runs Manga Hero, the world’s only publisher of Catholic manga comics, said he expects to have 300,000 copies produced in Spain. The comic, Habemus Papam, was written by Gabrielle Gniewek, a student at John Paul the Great University in San Diego.
Archbishop: faithful should use Twitter BY ED WEST
CATHOLICS should use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to evangelise, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation has said.
The newly appointed Archbishop José Octavio Ruiz Arenas said it was important to reach out to people in a language they understood. He said: “New Evangelisation means to spread the message of Christ, and we need to find the most appropriate medium to do so... we are living in a digital world, in a digital culture, therefore the New Evangelisation must make use of modern social media: Facebook, Twitter, etc, in order for the Church not to lag behind.”
Jeff Grabosky The Catholic who ran across America PAGE 7
Damian Thompson Catholic England’s best-kept secret PAGE 9
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