Diocesan News

Schumer Calls for Hiring Catholic Chaplain at Federal Prison in Brooklyn

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer has charged that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is dragging its feet on hiring a priest for Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center.

Since February, the prison has been without a Roman Catholic chaplain. Schumer has called on the BOP to immediately put in place a full-time Roman Catholic Chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park.

Following Mass at St. Thomas More Church, Breezy Point, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio toured the Queens neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. With him are, from left, Sen. Charles Schumer, New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith, Msgr. Michael Curran, pastor, and Deacon Jaime Varella. (File photo)

Schumer said that, given the large Catholic population of inmates, a Catholic chaplain should be hired before Christmas. He added that hiring a Catholic chaplain would help provide a safer environment for the entire prison and help ensure that inmates can seek support and properly worship if they choose.

“With Christmas fast approaching, and the Brooklyn facility lacking a chaplain for many months, the federal Bureau of Prisons should stop delaying and immediately hire a full-time permanent Catholic Chaplain at this facility; it is the right thing to do at the right time,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I’m urging the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hire a Catholic chaplain before Christmas. The Brooklyn Diocese has a number of priests who can do the job, the BOP just needs to act. Even more, statistics show faith leaders help provide a safer environment for the entire criminal justice system and to those seeking their support.”

While the Metropolitan Detention Center has been without a permanent Catholic chaplain since last February, there have been temporary solutions in place, but Schumer says these temporary and unstable conditions have continued for too long. According to the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Detention Center was able to cover services for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services, but the monthly rotation of a chaplain limits stronger bonds from forming.

Currently, the priests who cover the prison include Father Thomas Pettei, Episcopal Vicar; Father Freddy Cintron, pastor of St. Catharine of Alexandria, Borough Park; Father Angel Medrano, CM, from St. John the Evangelist, Park Slope; and Father Sijo George, CMI, from SS. Simon and Jude, Gravesend.

On the day after Christmas, Auxiliary Bishop Neil Tiedemann, CP, will celebrate two Masses at the center – one with male inmates and a second with females.

The lack of a Catholic chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center has been a pressing issue among religious inmates and their relatives. According to the Diocese, there are two priests who would be interested in filling the position as full time chaplain for the Detention Center, but the Bureau of Prisons has yet to hire someone.

The BOP has cited a hiring freeze and other bureaucratic issues for the delay, however, Schumer says there must a way this can be worked out before the holiday approaches.

A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:

Dear Director Inch:

It has come to my attention via the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn that, since February of this year, the Metropolitan Detention Center located at 80 29th Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11232, has been without a Roman Catholic chaplain. Given the large Catholic population of inmates, and with the Christmas season upon us, I write today to urge the Federal Bureau of Prisons to immediately place a Roman Catholic Chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The holiday season is approaching, and this is a time of extreme importance for those who celebrate Christmas. We must ensure that the inmates can properly worship if they choose to do so. The gap in maximally effective religious coverage at this facility is unfortunate and undermines the highest level of support that helps maintain a positive and safe environment for inmates and guards.

It is my understanding that the Metropolitan Detention Center was able to cover services for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services, and was later able to establish a monthly rotation with four priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, but this is a patchwork solution. A much better solution is to promptly hire a Catholic Chaplain to directly serve the facility.

There have been many complaints by the inmates and their relatives about the lack of a Roman Catholic Chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The Diocese of Brooklyn has assured me that there are priests that are willing and ready to fill the position of chaplain, but thus far the BOP has declined to hire a chaplain, citing a so-called hiring freeze and other issues. I strongly believe this can be worked out and again urge you to do what is necessary to hire a Catholic Chaplain with all due speed. I will, of course, help in any way I am able.

It is imperative that we resolve this issue before the Christmas holiday, as it is one of warmth, tradition, and spirit, and we must provide a way for the inmates to celebrate such joyful and important occasion with the proper spiritual support. Thank you for your consideration and response on this matter. I hope we can solve this issue before Christmas  approaches, and wish you, too, a joyous holiday season.

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