Saturday, January 30, 2010


Today I share with you comments from letters to me from priests in prison. I won’t identify them for the sake of their privacy. This is the ministry dearest to my heart, ministering to incarcerated priests. Others involved in prison ministry include Fr. Paul Sauerbier, Fr. Pat Hanser, and Dolores N. Crowley.

• “I’ve been using a cane for four years. The orthopedic doctor told me the only thing that would help is a knee replacement. He said they don’t do that kind of surgery on ‘people of confinement’ because of the danger of infection in a prison environment. So I just continue to hurt and hobble. I’ve discovered over the years that medical treatment in prison is like the food – as little as possible … as cheaply as possible.”
Note: He is the second priest to tell me that a surgeon refused to do a knee replacement because of the very real risk of infection once the man returns to the filthy prison.

• “Last year I suffered a mild heart attack. When I was sent to the infirmary, they sent me back saying nothing was wrong. The officer on our tier had the presence of mind to send me back to the infirmary an hour later and told them something was wrong with me. That night I wound up in intensive care in a hospital a few hours away. I will keep in mind your offer to “do battle” for me. What a wonderful offer!”
Note: A sick inmate gets little care unless someone “on the outside” rattles the rafters. This is my mission this year! Bishops can be certain that they will hear from me when a sick priest in prison needs medical help, regardless of the diocese he’s from. I wrote to one bishop after a priest died. The bishop had ignored our pleas to at least express some concern to the warden. The bishop replied to me saying the deceased was not from his diocese. And so, like Pilate, he washed his hands of the priest. I pray our Lord does the same when the bishop faces Him.

• “You’ve done much traveling through the year. Much of it, it seems, to spread the Gospel message of love and peace. … "

• “I thank the ‘Good God’ above for blessing you with this extraordinary ministry in caring for his fallen angels. I thank you for the good work you are doing by your prayers and support you give us in our needs. I lost the small family and friend I had. But now I know I have a new family in you and Dolores (Crowley).”

• “Thank you for the support and caring to me and all my brother priests who are presently incarcerated. In the midst of misunderstanding and abandonment, it is consoling to know that there are good people…who care for us priests who have gone astray.”
Note: How could a Christian do anything less??

• “For the last 10 years, I’ve worked in the laundry… In August the laundry was restructured and I was assigned to the yard for one day. When they realized I couldn’t hold a rake or any other tool in one hand and a cane in the other, I was assigned as a cell block orderly. I wipe things down every day. It isn’t very strenuous…”
Note: Did you know that inmates who are unable to work or cannot find work are unable to purchase food from the commissary to supplement the pitifully non-nourishing meals served in the chow hall? Did you know that when there are food recalls, prison officials purchase it for inmates to eat? There is no concern that it might make them sick or cause death.

• “Recently I was taken to medical and eventually to the hospital because of my chronic heart condition. It is true that if someone like you stirs things up the Dept. of Corrections moves quickly to rectify. Thanks for your guardianship to ‘fallen angels.’ ”

• “When I received your letter I thought who is this person, but when I read about you and your intentions, it felt kind of good. There aren’t many people with thoughts like yours (or who are) brave enough to support someone in our kind of situation.”

• “After I was arrested I called the parish to let them know what was going on because that’s the only source I have in the US. I have no family members in America. I can understand that the parish was devastated, and it was a difficult time for them too. After receiving a few collect calls, the pastor (whom I lived with for almost three years) told me they can’t take or afford any more collect calls. That was the beginning of my abandonment. They even announced in the parish and the diocese that no one should contact me.”
Note: Shame on that diocese for abandoning one of their own!

• Excerpts from a letter to a doctor from a retired priest:

“I visited 80 yr. old (name withheld) …and saw the severe bruising in the area of his ankles and wrists. I want to thank you for initiating some action on elder abuse on his behalf.

He may be the victim of societal vengeance which touches the correctional system, the media, and the Church. He has been convicted of some very abusive things but he is still a human being. Often those who seem to deserve the least are those who need to be loved the most. It is not like he needs to be chained up because he will run away since he has limited feeling in his feet.

I am sure that the Archbishop … and who has a degree in Church Law would want to be of assistance in pursuing adequate care for one of the Archdiocese’s former priests, especially since sacramentally he is still a priest… I’m also sure that Warden…would not want elder abuse perpetrated in his name by those who transport inmates for medical attention.”
Note: The priest who wrote this was wrong: the Archbishop did not want to be of assistance and wasn’t! The ailing priest was never taken back to the doctor. He suffered and died. Father’s death left a hole in my heart. But in following his example, I pray that his accusers will find it in their hearts to forgive him. He was a suffering soul. He knew that his crimes called for a prison sentence, but he never understood that prison guards were often as cruel as inmates. Neither did he know that he would be abandoned by brother priests and the bishop he had served. He died knowing that he was loved by a few of us. Father did not die alone. I firmly believe that our Lord took Father into His arms and welcomed him into paradise. Father paid for his sins and he was ready to leave the brutality of those surrounding him. May he rest in peace.

• “Conscientious doctors who come here do not stay long because of a lack of cooperation from the staff, the lack of necessary medical supplies and abusive treatment of inmates by many guards.”

• “I was awakened at 11:30 pm and told that I was on the chain to medical which is … a two hour drive from here. I had to pack up my property and present it at 12:30 am. I got back to my cell at 1 a.m. and was awakened at 3 a.m. to go to breakfast and then wait for the bus which arrived at 5 am. There were seven of us going for medical. I was chained to a young man that I have nick-named Gizmo …he looks like Gizmo from the movie, “Gremlins.” We arrived in… at 7:30 am and waited in a huge waiting room until 10 am. when I was escorted to the urology department. I was seen by an intern and waited for a medication packet that never came until 3 pm. I went back to the waiting room to wait until 6 pm for the bus and guards to chain us, board us and take us back to… but we had to stop at five other units to let off men, thus getting to my unit at 10 pm for supper and a shower. I finally got to bed at 11pm.”

• “I had two friends paroled this month. One was a 39 year old man. He was 17 when he came into the system. After 22 years the daughter of the man he murdered wanted to meet him. She expected a tattooed, rude, mean, gang member. What she met was a young man who looks under 30, kind, small and full of faith. The woman was shocked and this led to various meetings between the two. The woman asked that he be released. She did not want this young man to die in prison. He left this week. We had the opportunity to sit in the chapel for a few minutes so he could tell me some things. He made me cry with the words, “I love you and thank you for teaching me to be strong in my faith. I am truly blessed to be a Catholic and to belong to such a great Church.” I tell you this not to blow my own horn, but rather to let you know that these men …can be touched by love, faith and just caring for them. (My friend) is young and will learn how to use a cell phone, a computer, get a savings account, credit cards and hopefully find a wife and have a family. I have much faith in him … There is still hope for men and women who are cared for, loved, listened to and guided. I thank God daily that I can be a brother to them here. ”

• “Thanks again for being you. God is so proud of you. May He/She continue to bless you in your love for His/Her ‘Fallen Angels.’ ”

• “I thank from the bottom of my heart all those family members and friends who have stood by me through thick and thin. I know it has not been easy to be a part of a plan for one who has fallen to the depths that I had fallen, but in my heart of hearts I know and believe that I will never betray ever again the trust of those who love me and cared enough to help me heal and will help me achieve my freedom. I do not want anyone to ever regret extending their hand to me in my time of greatest need. God so loved the world that He gave us His Son, and whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, and a friend forever more. That has been my promise, His promise to us all. I lean on it.”

• “Re ‘fallen angels’: “I think I can say …the word most of us would prefer to ‘angels’ is ‘priests.’ I personally don’t have a problem with the notion of ‘fallen,’ although I think of myself as one who fell – and got up again, by God’s grace, prison notwithstanding. I like the idea of ‘wounded priests,’ as in Henri Nouwen’s ‘Wounded Healer.’ I suppose that adjective could be (mis)construed as an attempt to paint the priests as victims. Still, wounded we are; and we need people like you to minister to our woundedness -- especially since our pastors, for the most part, have bailed out on that responsibility.”

• “I have been in recovery from triple-by-pass surgery. I had the heart surgery at …The cardiac team was so supportive – I was a patient first and not a prisoner to them. The surgeon was excellent. We all prayed before the surgery. They also waited for a priest to visit and give me the sacraments before they would do the surgery. Our Lady of Lourdes was always near along with her son, Jesus. Thank you for your prayers. They were also a part of all going well.”

• “The bishops of the United States appear to have discerned that they cannot minister to both victims and accused; that they cannot be church to both; that they cannot be Christ to both, I suggest that in this way, they fail their own vocations and betray their witness to the Gospel. It’s a scandal within the scandal, a crisis within the crisis, and points to a profound deficit of faith and courage.”

• “… every incarcerated priest I know, and almost every accused priest I know, (diocesan priests, that is) has been fully, totally, and usually publicly abandoned by his bishop, his diocese and most of his former colleagues. …Moreover, in every public statement regarding the abuse crisis, the archdiocese/archbishop always declares that they are praying for the victims and survivors (as well they should, of course); but never -- as in absolutely never, as far as I know – pledges prayers for the accused priests and their families. I make that observation not so much because it points to a failure of the archbishop to pray for us (Who know? Maybe he does pray for us!), but rather because it points to the institutionalization of cowardice; they are afraid to express even enough concern for us as might be reflected in a promise to pray for us.”
Note: This observation is so true and so painful not only to the priests in prison but to any compassionate Catholic who believes in the Gospel.

• “Christmas is always a difficult time in prison. All of us miss our loved ones. As difficult as it is for me, it must be more difficult for those who are married and have small children. The birth of our Savior is a sure reminder of just how much our Lord loves us and wants to reconcile us to His Father. If only all could know His immense love, then Christmas would be filled with forgiveness, mercy, and a unity that the world has never known.”


Christ is Present

Into this world, this demented inn,
in which there is no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power
because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured and exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.
He is mysteriously present in those
for whom there seems to be nothing
but the world at its worst.

- Thomas Merton