By David Lichter
Welcome to our first Vision article on the theme of prison ministry. In a sense, this issue has been in the works since April 2018, when the NACC was invited to meet with over 30 Catholic organizations and associations to develop a national coordinated ministry to the wide range of people affected by incarceration/detention.
This gathering was a result of discernment by representatives of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Certification of Ecclesial Ministry and Service (SCEMS) and USCCB’s offices of Domestic Social Justice and Peace and Governmental Relations and the then-inactive American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association (ACCCA).
We gathered at the Catholic University of America in Washington to accomplish this goal. The day-long meeting ended with a commitment of each organization to help strengthen this ministry. Thus, the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition was formed. Its mission statement is:
The Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (CPMC) promotes ministry to all people affected by incarceration. Our goal is to recruit, train, support and empower those called to this ministry. We strive to create a more just and merciful criminal justice system that upholds the dignity of every human person and advances restorative justice.
These stakeholders quickly determined that they needed a national networking resource and a national approach to preparing, credentialing, and supporting the ministry to those affected by incarceration. Representing the NACC, I was asked to chair one of the three committees formed that day, the Formation Committee.
As you know, the NACC has been working for five years with other Catholic ministry groups to develop pastoral care competencies and resources in many different settings. A primary goal of our 2018-2020 strategic plan was “To lead the strengthening of the Church’s pastoral care ministry.” Our 2019 National Conference was a centerpiece of this planning focus and made available these competencies and resources. One set of competencies was for those working in criminal justice settings.
We are lucky that three former participants in the Partners in Pastoral Care work continue to serve on the CPMC Formation Committee: Harry Dudley, former director of the SCEMS; Fr. Richard Deshaies, SJ, former head of the ACCCA; and Deacon Edgardo Farias, director of the Archdiocese of Miami Detention Program. In coming weeks, you will hear from some of them, as well as many other writers with unique perspectives on prison ministry.
Over the past three years, this Formation Committee has helped support the numerous workshops and town halls that CPMC has offered monthly. It also has developed three pathways for formation and credentialing of those involved in this ministry. Most ministering in jails or prisons are volunteers organized by dioceses or parishes. Since most dioceses and parishes do not have any formalized preparation programs, these pathways are intended to provide national guidance or support. The competencies and pathways will be presented for approval to the USCCB SCEMS this coming September. The Leadership Specialization Pathway will result in certification: a person who successfully completes this pathway will become a certified Catholic correctional chaplain.
As the CPMC began to become more organized and grow, it needed national funding to fulfill its goal of becoming self-sustaining within a few years. Since the CPMC was not its own independent nonprofit 501(c)(3), the NACC Board of Directors agreed last year to become CPMC’s fiscal sponsor as of May 1, 2020. This means that CPMC can now seek funding under the NACC’s nonprofit status. Since last spring, several grants were applied for and received to help with these efforts.
The NACC Board of Directors receives regular updates on CPMC. The NACC Board Chair, Carolanne Hauck, and I serve on the CPMC Executive Committee. Mary T. O’Neill, former NACC Board Chair, also serves on the CPMC Formation Committee and championed the development of the Intensive Pathway.
Historically, the NACC had just a few members involved in prison ministry. But over the last few years, we have offered quarterly networking calls for those members, which have revealed the need and charism of this ministry. Between two and three million persons are incarcerated in our country’s criminal justice system. Every person who is imprisoned has a family that is also affected by crime. Pastoral care is needed for all. But until recently, no one national Catholic organization was working on the range of needs for ministry to all people affected by mass incarceration.
The NACC is grateful now to be even more fully involved in preparing, credentialing and supporting those in this ministry. Our 2021-2023 Strategic Plan states this ongoing commitment, in its Priority Two: NACC will become the creator and curator of programs for the development and formation of all who serve in the Church’s pastoral care ministry. Key outcomes include:
- Continue the development of common competencies and pathways for various pastoral care ministries across the country, beginning with ministries in correctional settings. Implement these competency and formation model(s) for the Partners in Pastoral Care.
- Assist Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition as the Steering Committee seeks to develop a sustainability model for the future of the Coalition.
We look forward to our continued partnership with the CPMC. I hope that all of our members, regardless of the setting in which they minister, can learn more about this unique ministry over the next two months in this space.