“Offering a Small Time of Sanctuary and Peace”
Father Ted Hughes, Regional Chaplain, Prairie Region (right) with Darren Friesen, from Saskatoon Community Chaplaincy
Photo: Jeff Campbell
“You might call me ‘chaplain to the chaplains,’ ” says Father Ted Hughes, in describing his dual role as Regional Chaplain, Prairie Region.
In contrast to his team of 32 institutional and community chaplains, who work on contract, Father Ted, originally from Hamilton, Ontario, is a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) employee. His job is to work with the chaplains, manage their contracts and see that the spiritual needs of both offenders and staff are met, regardless of religious affiliation. At the same time, he remains active as a Roman Catholic priest.
“Wearing these two hats can be a balancing act,” he says, “but not in any way
contradictory to what I was doing before — namely, as our Chaplaincy motto says, ‘Overcoming evil with good.’ That was the motto of my own ministry, so it flowed well into the Correctional Service when I joined in 2003.”
As both Regional Chaplain and priest, Father Ted has to walk a fine line between representing the interests of CSC and holding sacred the seal of confession. A dilemma arose early on when there were proposed revisions to Chaplaincy contracts: How to respect an offender’s confession without compromising institutional security?
“I couldn’t tell the chaplains that they must never hold any privileged
information confidential,” he explains. “Fortunately, with Legal Services and Contracting, we agreed on a phrase that says chaplains must report all security threats, ‘while respecting the confidential nature of privileged information received during spiritual counsel’. People have to make a judgment call,” he adds, “to follow their own conscience, but in an informed manner.”
Helping correctional staff find a balance between the seemingly conflicting
values of justice and mercy or control and compassion is another aspect of Father Ted’s work. In his orientation sessions with new correctional officers he challenges them to think beyond the control part of the job and see themselves as “offering a small time of sanctuary and peace” to those who have been entrusted to their care.
“It’s not easy,” he says, “because in the midst of a segregation unit or an assault on staff, you still have to ask yourself ‘How can I do the right thing?’
Which is: to offer respect. Not just following the rule of law, but the underlying respect that each one of us should have for a fellow human being. That may be Chaplaincy talk, but it fits in completely with our Mission and Values.”