NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BISHOPS
RETURN TO EVALUATE SPIRITUAL
PROGRAMMING FOR PRISONERS
Leaders of Northern California’s Catholic Church visited San Quentin as part of a review of incarcerated spiritual operations that occurs every 10 years.
San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and bishops from the Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento dioceses toured Death Row and the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel.
The bishops administered confession to parishioners who received the confession and then sat in small groups for a question and answer session.
During the small circles, San Jose’s Bishop Oscar Cantú said, “We pray for you regularly and it is so nice to put the faces with the prayers. Jesus gave us freedom, even while He was in prison. Remember, love, hope and freedom will happen whenever you encounter Christ.”
Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said, “I am impressed with how everyone here lives out their faith.”
The incarcerated residents were just as impressed with Northern California’s leadership.
Parishioner and church musician Daniel Le said, “It feels nice the bishops took their time to visit and listen to our needs.”
San Quentin’s Catholic Chapel contains a marble altar, a communion rail and side altars dedicated to the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary.
The church has received thousands of dollars in donations for items such as sound stage and audio/visual equipment and a new floor.
Barber believes the design of the prison’s Catholic Church allows inmates to feel they are not in prison, but in a real Catholic parish.
The bishops expressed concern about potential administrative intrusion in the church’s space that could negatively affect parishioners’ ability to worship according to Catholic traditions.
Oakland’s Bishop Michael Barber, who has celebrated Mass at San Quentin for 20 years, said he was “appalled to find the Catholic Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary repurposed by the state as a nondenominational meeting space.”
The bishop told Julie Asher of OSV News, “How does the state think they can rehabilitate these men while downplaying the role of faith in their lives?”
San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone agreed with Bishop Barber. He reminded the parishioners, “This is a “sacred space, a dedicated Catholic chapel. Take advantage, pray, perform the rosary, meditate, read the Bible, sit quietly in the presence of the Lord.”
Cordileone told everyone in attendance he would ensure the holy site remains sacred. “We want everyone in the state of California prisons to have the ability to practice religions. We will embrace you and assist you in living out His will as you carry your own cross.”
Catholic clerk Arturo Melendez hopes the bishops’ visit will shine light on the uses of the sacred space. “We hope the separation of church and state does not lead to the demise of all religious practices in prisons throughout the world. It’s sad — Jesus showed forgiveness and everlasting love in prison and we hopefully learn the same in our traditional sanctuaries.”
Father Manny recognized the sentiments of the bishops, but he also praised San Quentin’s leadership. “They are doing the best they can to be all things to all people. [The administration has] made it clear to me that they understand the value of the sacred spaces and will do their best to maintain them as such.”
It was the visitors’ hope that incarcerated people recover faith and continue their spiritual growth when they leave prison.