Listen: Ruth Webber in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
It is easy to love the people who accept our love and to care for those grateful to be helped. Does our call to love our neighbour really include the gruff and ungrateful, the people who have been removed from society for criminal acts?
Some of these prison inmates had committed heinous crimes – there is not disagreement about that. There is an argument that we should lock them up and throw away the key and give them the barest level of care and comfort.
But, much as we hate the crime do we have to hate the prisoner too? Is it part of our Christian mission to take a kinder view and believe that redemption is possible?
It is a subject Open House has canvassed previously with prison visitor, Fergus Hynes, who has a powerful argument about the cost of keeping people locked up and a heartfelt plea for treating prisoners with compassion.
Chaplains a powerful positive influence
Professor Ruth Webber from Australian Catholic University (ACU) has studied prisoners in Australia and the US and says the work of prison chaplains fulfills a Christian mission. In fact, a recent study she has completed of Catholic prison ministry in Victoria highlights some interesting benefits of having a chaplain behind bars.
Professor Webber’s study found that Chaplains commanded a high level of respect among prisoners. Interestingly, prisons with a chaplain had significantly lower levels of violence. The presence of a chaplain also had a positive impact on the level of depression in the prison population.
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Additionally, many of those assisted by chaplains don’t profess any religious faith but have trust in the chaplain’s ability to help. The study also found chaplains are a compassionate and useful resource for the families of prison inmates and often play a big part in their successful rehabilitation and return to society.
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