The International Commission of Principal (Catholic) Chaplains, with official representatives from sixteen countries, assembled at Strasbourg from the 12th to 16th of September, 1983, to consider the theme: 'The Prison Chaplain, today and tomorrow'.
At the opening session, the President declared: 'We have set ourselves the bold task of drawing up ... a Charter for Prison Chaplains'. It would, he suggested, reflect a vast wealth of pastoral experience; it would present a summary of what is essential to the mission of the prison chaplain; and it would help all engaged in this apostolate to look forwards the future with serenity and clarity of vision.
The bold task 'has finally been completed and it is with joy that we present this "Charter for Prison Chaplains" to our brothers chaplains and to all who share with them in the privilege of visiting Jesus in prison'.
article 18 : 'Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ...'
article 6:1 : 'There shall be no discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion ...'
article 6:2 : 'On the other hand it is necessary to respect the religious beliefs and moral precepts of the group to which a prisoner belongs.'
article 41:1 : 'If the institution contains a sufficient number of prisoners of the same religion, a qualified representative of that religion shall be appointed or approved. If the number of prisoners justify it, and conditions permit, the arrangements should be on a full-time basis.'
article 41:2 : 'A qualified representative appointed or approved under paragraph 1 shall be allowed to hold regular services and to pay pastoral visits in private to prisoners of his religion at proper times.'
article 41:3 : 'Access to a qualified representative of any religion shall not be refused to any prisoner. On the other hand, if any prisoner should object to a visit of any religious representative, his attitude shall be fully respected.'
article 42 : 'So far as practicable, every prisoner shall be allowed to satisfy the needs of his religious life by attending the services provided in the institution and having in his possession the books of religious observance and instruction of his denomination.'
'Christ received all those who came to him whatever their condition. He was, the friend of publicans and sinners.'
The Church endeavours to serve men as Jesus did, attentive to all but especially to the most needy with whom Christ identified himself.
That is why the Church has set up a prison chaplaincy service.
From the day when Jesus promised Paradise to the 'good thief' to the day when Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin in prison, the traditional practice of the Church, despite many shortcomings due to human frailty and sinfulness, has been to take with all seriousness our Lord's words: 'I was in prison and you visited me.'
This tradition has received support from the magisterium of the Church, especially during recent times. Vatican II's dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium" and its pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes", as well as papal encyclicals "Redemptor Hominis" (1978) and 'Dives in Misericordia' (1980), have much to say about the mission of the Church, particularly to the marginalized, about the rights and dignity of every human person and about the boundless love and mercy of God towards all.
The prison chaplaincy tries to offer help and support to prisoners by assisting their human and spiritual development and to accompany them on their way towards reconciliation with themselves, with others and with God.
The discovery and acceptance of what one is, with one's limitations and failings, one's good qualities and potentialities; the frank recognition of what one has been and what one wishes to become.
In pursuit of that aim the chaplain tries to meet prisoners and to allow them to meet him by setting up a real relationship between them.
He listens to them with respect, attention and patience, accepting them as they are, helping them to express themselves, to share something of themselves and to be realistic in their assessment of themselves. He helps them to find a meaning in life. He retains his confidence in them despite their failures.
The establishment or re-establishment of more normal social relationships at every level, the ability to live in fellowship with other.
The chaplain ought to relieve the solitude of prisoners by encouraging them to maintain links with their families and by supporting relationships with the world outside.
He tries to encourage mutual help between the prisoners as well as their joint activities in favour of less favoured people whether inside or outside prison. He gives his support to everything which can contribute to the well-being of prisoners and encourage associations to take an interest in the problems of prisoners.
He looks for ways of awaking their sense of responsibility vis-a-vis themselves, the comrades and also their victims and their families.
The discovery or rediscovery of the love of the living God who calls us to continual conversion. By the whole of his life, the chaplain should be the sign of this love of God for men. He presents the Gospel as the good News of liberation for the men of today. He celebrates the Eucharist which establishes the Church in prison, and administers the sacraments, which are the signs of reconciliation between God and man.
It is essential that priests intended for this difficult ministry be carefully chosen by the bishop. The principal chaplain ought to make sure that they receive an appropriate training.
The prison chaplain ought not to work alone. He should be re-commended to seek the support of lay people to help him in his apostolate and to consider with them the future possibilities of this chaplaincy. the whole local Christian community ought also to be made aware of its responsibility to be involved with the chaplain's ministry.
The prison chaplain is the 'animateur' of this Christian community in prison, an unusual yet authentic community, whose members share in the life of Jesus Christ and worship him within their prison setting.
He pursues friendly relationships with all those who work in the prison: staff and voluntary helpers alike.
He commits himself to forming bonds between this Christian community in prison and other communities at all levels of the Church outside (parochial, diocesan, etc). He has a prophetic role in the whole Church of recalling Christians to their duties in regard to the problems raised by the judicial and penal systems.
Our sincere hope is that the Church will continue to provide priests as prison chaplains, even in these days of shortage of vocations.
In this way the Church will give a sign of the priority of her concern to the poor.
He ought to be deeply concerned with alerting public opinion to the special problems of prisons, for in the last resort they are society's problem.
Respect for the human dignity of prisoners leads us to acknowledge their own personal responsibility for their misdeeds.
At the same, however, it is necessary time and again to draw attention to the collective responsibility of society - and more particularly of the families which make up society - for the way in which it spawns and encourages delinquency.
Prison chaplains are convinced that prison is not the only solution or the best remedy for dealing with delinquency.
What needs to be powerfully encouraged and facilitated is the work of crime prevention and a growth in the range of non-custodial sanctions which can be used as alternatives to imprisonment.
It is our duty to draw the attention of all men and women to the achievement of this goal.