Theology of Prison Chaplaincy

Coetsier, Meins G.S., Towards a Theology of Prison Ministry, Trinity College Dublin, School of Religion, Loyola Institute, 2021
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The argument being made in this thesis is that Karl Rahner’s views on prison ministry, although valuable and of significance in their context, are not adequate to deal with the more complex needs and demands of prison ministry in the twenty first century. A greater pastoral appreciation is necessary of the traumas, conflicts and suffering experienced by prisoners, prison pastors, prison staff and, indeed, in the wider world. The subjective world of the prisoner also needs to be addressed in an effort to engage with his/her innate human desire for meaning and fulfilment. Consequently, a more contemporary approach to prison ministry is required today which will draw on concrete experience of the above-mentioned traumas and conflicts and which will be sensitive to and inspired by the search for meaning as experienced by prisoners/facilitated by prison pastors. Such an approach leads to a theology based on empowerment that can be found through a creative and meaning-centred response to suffering, as illustrated by the lives of Viktor E. Frankl, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and Etty Hillesum. 

Meins Coetsier is a German prison chaplain. His writing focuses on a theology of prison ministry and considers the violence of the human condition, and the subsequent experiences of alienation, forsakenness and imprisonment. In the Bible, we find the structures and foundations for this disorder, which in turn, is the theme of his research: forsakenness and imprisonment. He reflects on prison experiences, and its articulation in symbols of alienation and estrangement in the Scriptures. Drawing on the writings of Karl Rahner, he sheds light on the experience of incarceration and on the question of pastoral ministry on the margins. He concentrates on two Christian ordained ministers: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Alfred Delp. With Viktor Frankl, he shows us that everything can be taken from people in their imprisonment but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way before God. 

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