Thursday, April 19, 2007

Prisoners have freedom of religion too

One of the freedoms we take for granted in New Zealand is freedom of religion. People are free to believe as they like, and worship as they like. Except, apparently, if they are Catholic and in prison. This week's NZ Catholic (offline) reports that Corrections have recently reversed longstanding practice, and started applying the ban on alcohol in prisons to visiting priests - meaning that prisoners cannot celebrate mass. United Future MP Peter Dunne is attacking this decision as "political correctness gone mad", but he's wrong. It's "'tough on crime' gone mad" - and part of the blame for the hardline approach can be laid squarely at the feet of parties like Dunne's, who have whipped up public fear and hatred of criminals as a lazy way of winning votes.

Snarky semantics aside, Dunne is completely right in considering this a violation of fundamental human rights. The celebration of mass is a vital part of Catholic religious observance, and preventing it effectively prevents them from properly practicing their religion. While the Corrections Act 2004 defines alcohol as an "unauthorised item", it also requires prison managers to provide for prisoners varying spiritual and religious needs, "so far as is reasonable and practicable". And of course s15 of the BORA affirms the freedom of every person to practice their religion in public or private, individually or with others. I have no doubt that if this policy was challenged in court, Corrections' policy would be found to be unreasonable, and the Corrections Act would be "read down" so as to be given an interpretation consistent with the BORA, as required by s6. The question is whether Corrections will waste public money defending the indefensible, or whether they'll admit their mistake and reverse their policy. Unfortunately, looking at their past behaviour, I suspect they'll choose the former.


It also seem silly given the amount of wine used in Mass is less than half a cup and the prisoners don't need to take Holy Communion under both species - ie. they only have to be given the Bread. The only one drinking is the priest.

Posted by Muerk : 4/19/2007 03:41:00 PM

While I think this is silly, it does make me wonder about freedom to practise the two religions I can think of off the top of my head that involve knives in rituals.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/19/2007 04:04:00 PM

I wonder if there are any Rastarafians in prison? It would be simply outrageous if they were denied the right to commune with their god in the approved fashion.

As far as Catholics go, I don't see why the government should be supporting ritual cannibalism at all.

Posted by Moz : 4/19/2007 04:49:00 PM

It's not as if they even have to use alcoholic wine so where is the problem


Posted by Anonymous : 4/19/2007 05:00:00 PM

As far as I'm aware, there is no prohibition in cannon law prohibiting the use of non-alcoholic grape juice in mass. I'm a Catholic, there's a very sound reason why there's a ban on alcohol in prisons (and why it's not particularly wise to start making exceptions on religious grounds), and Peter 'Common Nonsense' Dunne should fuck off and do something useful.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/19/2007 08:36:00 PM

Oh, and I'm an alcoholic who doesn't receive communion in both kinds anyway. I don't feel my 'spiritual needs' go unsatisfied - and neither should the Corrections Department.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/19/2007 08:38:00 PM

Craig: Yes, Bishops can give permission for priests to use mustum which is a pure form of grape juice.

Posted by Muerk : 4/19/2007 08:56:00 PM

Meanwhile, radical muslims are given carte-blanche to recruit disenfranchised prisoners.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 4/20/2007 10:44:00 AM

Yeah, we're not suddenly hearing of a big rush on no alcohol or drugs and guys leaving prisons and immediately going on the Hajj. Are we?

Posted by Muerk : 4/20/2007 05:52:00 PM

Cheese and crackers... I heard on National Radio this morning that this pathetic non-issue is now on the agenda of the Catholic Bishops Conference meeting today.

How about they just give prison chaplains permission to use mustrum in prisons, and encourage the Corrections Department to actually enforce the Corrections Act? Anything less, as I wrote on my blog, is religious correctness gone mad. (

Then I don't think the likes of Peter Dunne and Peter Williams have a damn thing to complain about....

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/22/2007 10:52:00 AM

I disagree Craig. It's PC to reverse an exemption previously held and prevent priests from holding communion.

There are legal exemptions all the time for the best possible reasons - the insanity of applying blanket rules to every situation.

That's why we can provide special parking rules for handicapped people, and provide different tax options to companies in their first year of trading. We can set a drinking age, age of consent, and age to enter into legal contracts.

Not allowing communion wine to be brought in by the priest is simply stupid intolerance and making a mountain out of a molehill.

The church should not be put through any special requirement to cope with such mean-spirited or stupidly bureaucratic intolerance. It's the law here that is the ass. Plain and simple.

By the way, the Mustum grape thing does not apply in this situation. It is only allowed under special circumstances threatening the priests health. So, you can't substitute Ribena or Grapetise in the mass, and there should be no need to in any event.

I explain further here:

Catholic Priests Banned

Posted by ZenTiger : 4/22/2007 07:40:00 PM

No, Zen Tiger. Catholics follow the Corrections Act like everyone else, rather than going bitching and whinging to the Human Wrongs Commissariat like Peter Dunne.

Plain and simple.

I look forward to Rastas in prison being given their sacramental ganga - as long as they only take very tiny tokes. Anything less would be petty and mean-spirited, wouldn't it?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/23/2007 12:04:00 AM

Sorry Craig, it seems that Zen Tiger is correct, mustum isn't acceptable unless the priest is medically unable to have alcohol.

The Zenit article ZT quotes is pretty specific. As is the Code of Canon Law and Redemptionis Sacramentum from what I can gather from

Given that such a tiny amount of wine is used for the Eucharist (20ml) it is wrong to refuse it. Without it, no Mass can be held and prisoners can merely have Holy Communion brought into them.

By all means demand that prisoners only communicate under the species of bread. To deny prisoners the holy sacrifice of the Mass is unduly onerous and I agree with ZT, the law here is an ass.

Given that mustum isn't acceptable, do you still hold to your position? And if so why? (Just out of curiosity)

Posted by Muerk : 4/23/2007 01:00:00 AM


Yes I do, and I want to tease out two distinctions here:

If your interpretation of canon law is right and mine is wrong, then there are proper ecclesiastical authorities (beginning with the Catholic Bishops Conference subject to head office :) ) who have a legitimate authority to settle such doctrinal and liturgical matters.

I still remain to be convinced that somehow trumps secular law regarding the management of prisons in New Zealand, without setting some precedents folks may find a little less congenial. I still think there are a number of alternatives that can be put in place without bringing in a faith-based exemption to the Corrections Act.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/23/2007 07:47:00 AM

That seems reasonable. I think that the Bishops should do everything within their power to comply with Corrections _and_ Catholic teaching.

But as for canon law and doctrine trumping secular law, I think that's a false dichotomy in this case, because I feel that there is an arrangement that is possible that satisfies both Corrections and the prisoners'/Church's desire to have Mass.

The same issue affects Anglicans and the Orthodox so it's good to get this sorted out. I see this in more the class of issue as prescription drugs, ie. things that are not normally allowable but there is an excellent reason for this exception.

Spiritual health and physical health are important in an holistic view of prisoner rehabilitation and their human rights.

Posted by Muerk : 4/23/2007 10:44:00 AM

This must be a real problem if you're a catholic wingnut:

Which is more important:
- being nasty to prisoners
- promoting mainstream religious beliefs
- supporting the use of Good Drugs
(those marketed by large corporations)

Posted by Rich : 4/23/2007 12:05:00 PM


Was there any part of that requiring a serious response?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 4/23/2007 10:44:00 PM