BY Peter Diamond | August 10 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Documentary praises the work of Faith behind bars

BBC to showcase the work of Catholic chaplains in Scottish jails

A Faith-based documentary due to be aired next week is helping to illustrate the important role of Catholic chaplains within Scottish prisons.

The priest at the centre of the 40-minute film set in HMP Edinburgh is this week urging Catholics to ‘learn about the great work we do within Scottish prisons.’

Fr Vasyl Krenus, a Ukrainian Catholic priest based at Our Lady of Pochayiv and St Andrew’s Church in Edinburgh, encounters a number of prisoners within the documentary who are seeking pastoral care for a range of issues.

This week the Scottish Government, the Catholic Church and the Scottish Prison Service have all said that Catholic chaplains play an important role in reforming inmates.

Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell Diocese, who is the president of the Pastoral and Social Care Commission, said: “Catholic chaplains work as a team across the Scottish Prison Service, and include priests, deacons and lay chaplains, as well as volunteers.

“They are inspired by their Faith and encounter those they meet as their brothers and sisters in Christ. They bring the message of redemption and transformation to all, regardless of their previous actions. Through their example, they represent the forgiveness that Jesus offers to everyone.”

Deacon Harry Schnitker is the senior Catholic chaplaincy advisor for the Scottish Prison Services, and is a permanent deacon within Dunkeld Diocese.

Deacon Schnitker said: “The role of the chaplain is complex. Basically, we are part of a wider group of agencies that deliver core well-being support to prisoners and to staff.



“It is work at the very margins of our society, and many of those we work with are amongst the most marginalised. To present Christ to them by our iconic presence is a great privilege.

“As chaplains we work with anyone and everyone, and our help is almost always appreciated. At times, we attract people to Faith in this way, but that is not our goal—we are there to serve the poor as Christ told us to.”

Throughout Scotland there are currently 20 Catholic chaplains, almost all part-time, and there are two vacancies.

The number of Catholic prisoners is hard to determine and fluctuates widely. However, on average some 400 prisoners will attend Catholic religious services or events on a weekly basis, and the Catholic chaplains will see the equivalent of 3,000 people per week, staff and prisoners.

In the documentary Faith Behind Bars, Fr Krenus works alongside his Protestant and Muslim counterparts to show the role of each religion within the perimeter walls.

Fr Krenus said: “I am happy with the documentary. It’s a good product and shows lay Catholics the great work that goes on within prisons and for that reason I would encourage everyone to watch it.

“A lot of Catholics don’t realise what we do in the prisons. It’s a faster pace from parish life because there are people who are desperate for chaplaincy and spiritual care as they are under stress of being in prison.

“We help them and it can be very fruitful, but I wouldn’t underestimate how quickly life goes by working in a prison due to the amount of requests from people who want to talk to us. It’s spiritual life in the fifth gear.”


Working together

The documentary shows great examples of chaplains from Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths working together and respecting each religion.

At one point the Protestant minister takes a request from a Catholic female prisoner who is grieving for the loss of her mother, father, step-daughter and her brother, whom she found hanging.

The minister simply listens to Amy (the prisoner) and then says a short prayer with her, before arranging a Catholic memorial service with Fr Krenus at a later date where she can light a candle too.

Fr Krenus said: “I think the film shows how all different religions work together within the jail to create a good chaplaincy. It’s not about toleration but rather cooperation and there are points within the film where that is perfectly shown.

“For most of the prisoners, being in jail is the first time they’ve ever had a proper conversation with a priest, even though they align themselves with the Catholic Faith.

“For that reason we provide them with the basic principles of the Faith and try not to overload their thoughts.

The Rosary beads and Catechism leaflets are great resources but their costs build up and we rely on funding.”

Towards the end of the documentary, Fr Krenus takes a call to visit an elderly prisoner who is suffering from lung cancer and dying. Fr Krenus had met with Leo several times beforehand and developed a rapport with him but never knew his crime. In the final scene of the documentary, Leo wants to ‘confess his sins,’ and tells the camera and Fr Krenus what he is in prison for—the rape of two children.

Fr Krenus added: “Leo actually died on January 6, this year on the Epiphany, I think it was a big moment for him to say that in front of myself and the cameraman.

“As chaplains, we have no idea what the prisoners are in for and most of the time I like to keep it that way, unless they want to talk about it.

“It’s better not to know what they are in for and just to see them as a person who wants help in trying to turn around their life.

“What we do is pastoral care on all levels—crisis, bereavement, and marriage to name a few—and we work within SPS policy to return these individuals to society as more responsible individuals and to sustain that through Faith.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Prison Services said: “We consider the spiritual wellbeing of those in our care to be of genuine importance and commend the work which is done to support it across all faiths and in all of our establishments.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are aware that a range of work is undertaken within our prisons to help and support prisoners of all faiths and we welcome the contribution that this makes to their wellbeing.”

Faith Behind Bars is on BBC One Scotland on Tuesday August 14 from 10.45pm.


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