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Argentina: The Perils Facing Police Officers and the Training That Prepares Them (Interview Part 1)

In recent times the severe economic and social crisis that is affecting many countries, combined with the existing social inequalities they suffer, has triggered a disastrous fragmentation of society. All these factors have a direct repercussion on the work of the police and security forces, who have been subjected to intense criticism on account of their actions in various countries around the world.

María Lozano, a journalist working for the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) interviews Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina. In this two-part interview, we will hear from this pioneer in his work of pastoral apostolate to the police force and the major challenges facing the profession.

Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina

Here is the first of a two-part interview:

The work of a policeman, the primary material, is life and liberty.

He is a servant of life.

ACN: Why a pastoral outreach to the police? What is a specific characteristic of this particular section of society that requires a special pastoral apostolate? 

Father Nicolás Daniel Julián: It is not merely a matter of providing a religious service, but rather a targeted care directed at the individual police officer within his own family and social setting and in the concrete situations that arise in his life. My work involves the pastoral, sacramental, missionary, and formative dimensions, on behalf of the Catholic faithful committed to our care. A police officer is endowed by the state with certain very specific characteristics that set him apart from others, namely authority and firearms. The police have the power to make decisions affecting the lives and liberty of others and society. It is for this reason that the Church wishes to concern herself specifically with the care, accompaniment, and support of the individual police officer. Since in a general sense it is his parish that accompanies him, in the day-to-day pastoral outreach of the Church, the chaplaincy seeks to accompany him in the specifics of his life. Our motto in Córdoba is: “personal accompaniment.”

Society, through its governments, entrusts this specific and important task to the forces of law and order. What is the greatest challenge they face?

When the emergency signals sound the police set out, very often not knowing what they will find. It might be a situation where an old lady has lost her cat which has climbed up into a tree, or it might be a home where the father has killed his wife and is holding his children hostage and ends up committing suicide in his despair. This is the life of a policeman; sometimes two police officers go out and only one returns alive. The life of a police officer is very, very stressful.

That is why we insist on formation. We can see that a policeman has had a great deal of training. He knows what he has to do. We work on the basis of Catholic social doctrine and ethical principles and supply the why he has to do it and the how he ought to do it. Nowhere in the world, I believe, should a police officer forget that the offender is a person and that this offender also has a soul that needs to be saved.

There is much criticism of the police and security forces. Is it not also important to highlight the dignity of the police officer in respect of the duties entrusted to him?

As we say, perhaps a little crudely, in Argentina, it is his job to do the dirty work, to clean up things that aren’t good in society, to maintain order and restore it when it has broken down. It’s a thankless task, where a dangerous situation arises and the rest of society runs away, and the police have to tackle it. Not only do they have to be properly trained and equipped, but also inwardly armed and prepared, and be very clear in their thinking.

As you said, it is a very dangerous profession, in which anything can happen any day. How to prepare them to face this?

We tell them that they have to have their life very much in order. They need to have been able to say goodbye to their families (each day) without leaving things unsaid or undone. Many police officers die in the line of duty. If you do your job badly, you don’t know if you’re going to lose your job or not; sometimes you may. If a Baker doesn’t do his work well, then his family won’t have any bread that day. If a policeman does his work badly, someone might die, someone might lose their freedom or lose their belongings. The work of a policeman, the primary material, if you will forgive me putting it like this, is life and liberty. He is a servant of life.

This must surely be a terrible psychological burden. In practice a police officer spends the whole day waiting to see if anything will happen and hoping that nothing will happen, and so it is day after day. A good part of everybody’s life is routine, but the life of a policeman cannot be routine, because we are talking about life and liberty. This psychological burden, I imagine, can also become a spiritual burden, given the important values they have to defend. How do you address this need? How do you alleviate this burden?

Much of the training given to the police is focused on crime. In society, thanks be to God, there are more good people than bad. Our approach is that, while recognizing everything that has to do with crime and all the specific laws, rules and procedures in regard to such crime, they should nonetheless be focused on service. This is very beneficial because it is life-fulfilling. We support them in their training, in relation to ethics and professional morality. Among other things we have composed a prayer for police officers, part of which states: “Lord, help me to do the hardest tasks without becoming hardened, the most noble acts of service without vainglory.” This is the fundamental point.

Argentina: The Perils Facing Police Officers and the Training That Prepares Them (Interview Part 2)

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