Prison clergy from the U.S. and Mexico agreed Thursday to send a joint letter to Roman Catholic bishops on both sides of the border asking for more support for inmate ministries.
The document was the product of an inaugural four-day conference in Orange County between Mexican and U.S. clergy, who talked about the common issues they face while serving Catholics behind bars: crowded conditions, immigration problems that cause long incarcerations and poor rehabilitation efforts.
"Those who are imprisoned oftentimes are suffering under conditions that are reflective of a society that has become much more vengeful," said Jaime Soto, auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Orange. So the prison system has become a place "to house people we no longer want to deal with."
To improve the criminal-justice system, the church needs to allocate more resources, initiate better programs, be more effective lobbyists and attract more volunteers, the clergy and laity agreed.
Thirty-eight Mexican representatives and 30 from Southern California and Texas attended the Jail and Prison Ministry Joint Congress at the diocesan headquarters in Orange.
The conference's focus on prisoners through cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico clergy satisfies two recently underscored priorities of the Catholic Church. The first is to bring "responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration" to the criminal-justice system, a major goal of the Catholic Bishops of the United States. And the second is the call from Pope John Paul II for the North American Catholic churches to work together better.
The goal of the initial conference was modest: to develop relationships between the Mexican and U.S. clergy. Future meetings will look at policy issues.
"I'm very heartened by this meeting we've had," Soto said. "In many ways, it's a historic moment."