By Catholic News Service
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Prisons must not be centers for torture and other degrading forms of punishment, but must help rehabilitate detainees so they can “conduct upright and honest lives within society,” said Pope Benedict XVI.
Jails and correctional facilities “must contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders, facilitating their transition from despair to hope and from unreliability to dependability,” the pope said in a Sept. 6 audience with prison chaplains at his summer villa in Castel Gandolfo. The chaplains were participants in a Sept. 5-12 international meeting on the pastoral care of prisoners.
“Public authorities must be ever vigilant” in creating conditions that help prisoners regain “a sense of worth” and in “eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners,” he said.
Citing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the pope reiterated church teaching prohibiting torture, saying it “cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”
More than 200 religious and laypeople participated in the 12th International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care. Its focus this year was “Discovering the Face of Christ in Every Prisoner.”
The commission’s president, Christian Kuhn, told the pope that prison chaplains often discover that people who find themselves in jail suffer from extreme poverty or mental disabilities.
The pope praised the work of prison chaplains and other pastoral workers for dedicating themselves to a ministry that “requires much patience and perseverance.”
He reminded them they “are called to be heralds of God’s infinite compassion and forgiveness” because prisoners “easily can be overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, shame and rejection.”
Together with civil authorities, pastoral workers need to help “the incarcerated rediscover a sense of purpose so that, with God’s grace, they can reform their lives, be reconciled with their families and friends, and, insofar as possible, assume the responsibilities and duties which will enable them” to become constructive members of society.