In 2007 the Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI) began to bring together the individuals responsible for Prison Ministry in the six diocese of Illinois, namely, Diocese of Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Belleville. This discussion led to the formation in 2008 of the Illinois Catholic Criminal Justice Network which embraces all Church members and agencies whose ministries are related to all aspects of incarceration and returning citizens back into the community.
The purposes of the Illinois Catholic Criminal Justice Network are as follows:
The Catholic Conference of Illinois coordinates the Illinois Catholic Criminal Justice Network, which is made up of clergy and laity from each diocese who minister to prisoners and inmates of state, federal and local institutions. The Network is organized as a practical response to Church teachings and the call of our bishops. Each of the six Dioceses has Coordinator of Prison Ministry appointed by their respective Bishop.
The six Diocesan Coordinators include the following:
“I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:7)
P.O. Box 398
East St. Louis, IL 62202-0398
Reverend Christian Reuter, O.F.M.
Mr. Louis Slapshak
There are a wide variety of ministries available to clergy and lay volunteers that come under the banner of Pastoral Care (ministries of healing) and Advocacy (ministries of social justice). Both Pastoral Care and Advocacy can be practiced inside the prison, outside the prison and in various support service roles.
PASTORAL CARE – Inside the Prison
||- Restorative Justice
- Legal Assistance
- Prison Safety and Abuse
PASTORAL CARE – Outside the Prison
||- Death Penalty/Sentencing
- Prison Privatization
- Immigrant Detention
PASTORAL CARE – Support Services
||- Parish/Diocese Awareness
- Public Relations
- Data Collection/Research
We also provide speakers to parish and diocesan groups about how they might support and strengthen Catholic prison ministry in southern Illinois. We are also willing to consult with individual volunteers as they discern how God is calling them to serve.
We provide a variety of training to those who desire to continue their prison ministry in a leadership role in the diocese. The Network has established a “Prison Ministry Leadership Curriculum” that covers a series of course created to support the six Roman Catholic dioceses of Illinois who seek to provide greater numbers of qualified individuals for ministerial leadership in prisons and jails. The four courses and workshops are conducted through Lewis University, Department of Theology, and provide the following:
by Fr. Chris Reuter O.F.M.
Prison Ministry is one of the Church’s best-kept secrets. It’s the final item in Matthew 25, where Jesus clearly itemizes the criteria by which we will be judged. Somehow we hear him when there are needs to feed and clothe the needy, but we rarely get to the end of the list when asked if we saw you ill or in prison and visited you.
Pope Francis makes it clear in his message on Fraternity: “In the broad context of human social relations, when we look to crime and punishment, we cannot help but think of the inhumane conditions in so many prisons, where those in custody are often reduced to a sub-human status in violation of their human dignity and stunted in their hope and desire for rehabilitation. The Church does much in these environments, mostly in silence. We ask the encourage everyone to do more, in the hope that the efforts being made in this area by so many courageous men and women will be increasingly supported, fairly and honestly, but the civil authorities as well.”
Here in southern Illinois we have a large number of prisons and prisoners – a reflection of our country, which incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. As “Prison Ministry Coordinator” for the Belleville Diocese, my first responsibility is to see that Catholic prisoners are provided the ordinary sacramental, catechetical, and other ministries of the Church. It is an ongoing challenge to recruit and train ordained and lay ministers to meet these needs. We also try to practice all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy with our resources. One that we are currently working on is the difficult issue of prisoner re-entry into society.
Church law is clear that prisoners have a right to this ministry and that bishop and pastors have the duty to provide it, just as we do for the sick and infirm who cannot be physically present in our parish churches. Canon Law asks us to make sure prisoners know they are members of the Church.
"I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own." ~ Pope Francis address to the detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on September 27, 2015
Prison Ministry in the Diocese of Belleville has the mission of bringing Catholic service and perspective to all those affected by incarceration in the twenty-eight counties of southern Illinois. This includes not only those confined in the federal, state and local correctional institutions of southern Illinois; but it also reaches out to their families, their victims, and the entire community. This is best patterned on the principles of Restorative Justice as a way to do justice that actively includes the people impacted by crime – victims, offenders, their families, and communities. Its goal is to respect and restore each as individuals, repair broken relationships, and contribute to the common good. This ministry in the diocese is carried out by priests, deacons, and lay ministers – almost all who are volunteers. The ministry takes on many forms which includes both the healing ministry of Pastoral Care and the social justice ministry of Advocacy.
Church law and teachings all stress that prisoners, who are separated from their families and communities and who are deprived of many civil rights, remain full members of the ecclesial community with the right to receive the sacraments, teachings, and ministrations, that are provided to Catholics in other settings.
The commentary on the Catholic Church Canon 516 makes the statements about these unique prisoner communities:
“Ordinarily, pastoral care for these unique communities will be rendered by the territorial parish within whose boundaries the institution is located. It is important that the Christian faithful who belong to these kinds of communities be made increasingly aware of the fact that they are members of the diocese, and of the universal Church.”
We are all called to Prison Ministry in terms of how we want to participate in both Pastoral Care and Advocacy ministries that are channeled to those in prisons or out of prison and returning to the community.
"A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation."~Pope Francis to the Joint Session of the United States Congress on September 24, 2015
The State of Illinois is divided into six Catholic Dioceses and each contains a number of Federal, State Prisons, Work Camps and Juvenile facilities. The current population of prisoners in the Federal and State prisons is 48, 278 (12/31/2014) that has a capacity of 36,000. This population does not include those in jails and juvenile facilities.
The Diocese of Belleville covers the 28 counties in the southern part of Illinois. This includes the following incarceration sites:
The current prisoner population in the Federal and State prisons in this area is 18,285 which represent about 37.9% of the inmates in the State of Illinois. Approximately 15% of the 18, 285 inmates are Catholic. This represents about 2,750 inmates that we are called to serve that are scattered in about 36 incarceration facilities.
At the present time (July 2015) we celebrate the Eucharist about 57 times per month with an average attendance of about 25-30 inmates. This would represent about 1,400 – 1,700 inmates per month. We must remember that all those in attendance may not be Catholic, but do participate in the service.
Other Catholic services at the incarceration sites can include: