Chaplain removed for bringing wine into prison

It happened in South Carolina:

For a quarter century, Monsignor Ed Lofton has served as one of 86 volunteer chaplains at the Charleston County jail. Bringing calm to inmates and jailers alike is considered essential to his mission.

But carrying wine into a facility where alcohol is labeled as contraband hasn’t come without controversy. He has fought and won that battle before.

For 15 years, he has consumed 1 ounce of sacramental wine during Mass without incident. Inmates partake only in the bread.

But this week he lost a fight.

Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas, the jail’s administrator, has told Lofton to replace the wine — brought to the jail in a TSA-approved container designed for holy water — with grape juice.

He booted the chaplain Tuesday after he refused to do so.

Lucas said the move was necessary because Lofton had threatened to sue on the basis of a civil-rights violation. He didn’t want the chaplain to continue visiting the jail and “gathering evidence” for a court claim, Lucas said.

The action has denied inmates a First Amendment right and a religious rite that’s “at the heart of what the Catholic Church is all about,” Lofton said. He added that he would ask for Lucas’ firing during a meeting today with Sheriff Al Cannon.

“They pull this on me after I’ve been doing this for years,” said Lofton, who leads St. Theresa the Little Flower Catholic Church in Summerville. “It’s pretty bad that I have to fight for something the Constitution allows. But this is religious freedom, and I’ll fight for it again.”

Read more.


  1. If only he had thought to bring the wine in a container labeled PEYOTE, he’d be just fine. While on one hand this is an example of petty bureaucracy at its worst, it’s also troubling because it’s one more example of the Why can’t you Catholics just be reasonable and go along (use grape juice, pay for contraception, ordain women, whatever)? mentality.

  2. Is Msgr Lofton a casualty of Cardinal Dolan’s fight for freedom? Who knows? This seems like a local issue. Petty bureaucrats are part of life, and from my memories of prison visits for Mass in the 80′s, county jails then were no exception. I was trained for participating in prison ministry. I was urged never to confront anybody: inmates or staff. Nothing. For no reason.

    However, a prison is a fear-driven subset of modern culture. One percent of Americans live in them. You can cultivate relationships and not just assume that a conversation shared fifteen years prior is going to hold weight with a new administrator, or even under the day to day pressures of keeping a lid on a structured and difficult environment.

    That said, Mr Lucas may well be the problem. But that’s not preventing the clergy from cultivating a relationship and developing understanding. Mr Lucas may well be a tool, but I don’t think the best solution is that he gets fired. The best solution is that he gets converyted or persuaded to change his mind.

  3. Would mustum be a viable option in this instance. I know its use is typically intended for priests who are recovering alcoholics or have adverse affects to consuming alcohol, but if it’s valid matter, it’s valid matter, no?

  4. Don’t be so sure. And for all those faithful Catholics who are sitting on the sidelines in the Obamacare debate thinking, “Surely the Supreme Court will strike it down” read on:
    “One thing I think is crystal clear — there is no First Amendment violation by this law,” Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, told TPM. “The Supreme Court was very clear in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, written by none other than Antonin Scalia, that religious believers and institutions are not entitled to an exemption from generally applicable laws.”

    The Reagan-appointed conservative justice authored the majority opinion in the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, a critical precedent to the birth control case, decreeing that religious liberty is insufficient grounds for being exempt from laws. The Supreme Court said Oregon may deny unemployment benefits to people who were fired for consuming peyote as part of a religious tradition, seeing as the drug was illegal in the state.

    “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself,” wrote Scalia, an avowed Catholic and social conservative, quoting from a century-old Supreme Court decision and giving it new life. His opinion was cosigned by four other justices.

    Scalia has made it quite clear: don’t expect us to undo a law that you believe inhibits religious freedom. It is the role of the political process to do that. God help us!

    Read the rest here:

  5. Joe, something tells me that Antonin Scalia will find whatever means he wishes to undo the Affordable Care Act. If you skim his questions and note his sarcasm during oral arguments, you might just get the impression he had his mind made up before the arguments began. I wish that were not the case, but Scalia is Scalia. (For one thing, he made a crack about the supposed “cornhusker kickback” — a provision that would have given Nebraska special assistance with Medicaid funding — which was repealed shortly after the Affordable Care Act was passed, and hence no longer part of the ACA. Evidently Scalia hates everything about the ACA. Facts in evidence will not be an obstacle for Justice Scalia.)

    Setting aside Scalia and SCOTUS, however, it’s clear that the jailer in the SC case, Mr. Lucas, does not have a constitutional leg to stand on. Sounds like he’s either poorly informed or inherently stubborn. Like Todd, I hope he’s able to get straight on this and does not lose his job.

  6. John Drake says:

    Of course, Todd. Your first shot is always at the Bishops. And I think it’s mis-leading to refer to “Cardinal Dolan’s fight for freedom.” He is clearly not the only bishop fighting this fight…they are ALL on board, as are many, if not most, serious Catholics. Not to mention many leaders of other Christian communities and non-Christian communities.

  7. pagansister says:

    Just bring the grape juice already. It’s jail—and even though it is only an ounce, and the inmates don’t get a taste, it is still a contraband substance. Jails have rules for a reason—Hello—the inmates are just that—inmates.

  8. Deacon Tom Lang says:

    Dear “pagansister” – We tolerate and support your right to NOT believe what we believe through faith and reason. All that we ask in return is that you are equally tolerant of us and respectful of our beliefs. After all, you wouldn’t want to be labelled as “intolerant” now would you? ;-)

    Aside from religion, let’s employ some basic reason and civics here. Rules and laws are necessitated to give society order and not chaos. They are to be promulgated when there is an issue or situation that must be addressed. As for the rule in question, “contraband” is of course a bad thing for inmates to have in whatever form it may come in. The rule is in place to keep contraband FROM PRISONERS. The purpose and spirit of the rule are maintained when a Catholic priest brings an ounce of wine into the prison for Mass AND consumes it HIMSELF.

    I may be wrong, but it appears to me as though your post seems to be offered as part of an agenda on your part against the faith practiced by the Catholic Church. No one is asking you to believe and do what we do. Again, please be respectful of our beliefs as we are of your non-belief.

    I would also hope that you take time to reflect upon your derogatory reference to “inmates” in the manner which you did. Yes, they are criminals because they committed crimes against society. Assuming that they were correctly charged and convicted, they fully deserves their confinement. But, does that mean that we have a right to strip them of their humanity? Do they lose their right to believe in God? Do they lose the chance to rehabilitate themselves and try to change their ways? Would you not prefer that a changed and transformed person to re-enter society vs. the hardened criminal who they were when they entered? Have you personally given up the fight that such rehabilitation is possible, at least for some?

    Let’s turn the tables here a bit. Let’s say that in prison they are no longer permitted to be atheists. The state forces them to attend Mass or other Christian services. They are required to attend daily Bible study, prayer groups, and must take turns leading the rosary. You would obviously (I would hope) argue, “That is absolutely wrong! The state should not strip them of their right to be an atheist!” I’d love to read your post then!

    Thanks for hearing me out and for considering my points which are offered in charity and peace.

  9. Invalid matter vs. contraband substance. If wine is banned, then Mass is banned. In telling the priest to substitute grace juice for wine, Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas attempting to apply Baptist theology to the Catholic Mass.

  10. Looks like the bad publicity is changing the minds of those running the jail. The Post and Courier is reporting that the Charleston County Sheriff, who is ultimately responsible for running the jail, has stated at a news conference that this is story is a “non-issue”, that he will be looking into the situation and that they will allow the wine to enter “for now”. source –!/offlede

  11. Deacon Steve says:

    That would be up to the local Bishop. The use of mustum is not automatic, it must be approved by the local ordinary for serious reason. In this case it would probably be granted to allow Msgr. Lofton to continue to say mass in the prison. But why after 15 years is it all of a sudden not ok for him to bring in enough sacramental wine to validly say mass? I have tremendous respect for Msgr. Lofton taking the stand he is taking. HAving gone into a Federal Prison on several occasions it seems strange that they are making this an issue now. Even in the Federal Prison system the chaplains are allowed a small amount of wine for the celebration of mass, the inmates receive the Body of Christ and not from the cup of Precious Blood.

  12. Even prohibition didn’t outlaw sacramental wine for Mass.

  13. No shot, John. If you read carefully, I disagreed with the notion that this is any sort of skirmish in the culturewar. It’s only one prison administrator flexing his muscles, and ultimately, it would seem, getting corrected.

    Msgr Lofton, as quoted, himself mentions “religious freedom.” To a degree, celebrating the Mass for Catholic prisoners is a matter of “freedom.” But this strikes me as a local overreaction of an individual, and no more a “fight for freedom” issue than, say, Bishop Lennon shuttering Cleveland parishes and denying the Mass to inner city parishioners who don’t want to join a new parish.

  14. it is still a contraband substance.

    So are firearms, pagansister. Do you suppose Deputy Lucas forbids his guards from carrying them?

  15. Update on the story -
    The Sheriff is going to allow wine in for now – BUT – Monsignor Lofton is still banned from the jail.

  16. Romulus,
    I’ve been in a few jails and prisons (on business) and I have never once seen staff or guards allowed to carry firearms anywhere inside the secure area where the inmates are kept. I am pretty sure it is much more strictly prohibited than wine and for very good reasons. That said the bar against sacramental wine is idiotic and probably will not survive a legal challenge.

  17. “All that we ask in return is that you are equally tolerant of us and respectful of our beliefs. ”

    To ask that of Pagan would be an impossible dream.
    Grape juice doesn’t cut it, Pagan!

  18. pagansister says:

    Deacon Lang, Well, let me say right off, it was not meant as a derogatory statement against the Church. Do you honestly think I’d spend 10 years teaching in a Catholic school if I had a problem with Catholic beliefs? That would be “no”. Having said that, would you rather there be no Mass said at all, because the Priest insisted on bringing in the wine? Right or Wrong, I assume that they could not allow Mass due to the wine rule. Or they could allow another priest in who was willing to use grape juice. One question, and I’m asking with respect—-it is not possible for the grape juice to be (am not sure of the proper word) transformed(?) into the blood of Christ? Yes, I totally understood the people incarcerated weren’t getting the wine—as I said in my post.

    Another question—-what would you call a person in a correction facility? Sure didn’t know “inmates” was considered not PC.

    Sure inmates or prisoners or law breakers or criminals (whatever one wishes to use as a PC word) should be allowed to believe anything they want when it comes to religion, IMO, or nothing. However, if the representative of their particular faith needs a substance not allowed, (knife used for an animal sacrifice perhaps, as an extreme example) perhaps that could be a problem, as it seemed to be in this case of the wine. As for forcing those who wish to not attend? Having had no experience with a prisoner, I would assume perhaps a chance to get out of a cell for whatever reason might be a way to break up the boredom. :o) I would guess in jail one does get forced to do things—as a loss of choice is part of paying back society for the deed committed for being there.

    As for rehab? I’m all for it if possible, but from some of the criminals that have been sent away, how many actually stay out? How many re-offend and go back? Personally, and this is obviously not a medical opinion—some folks are not able to be rehabilitated. Charles Manson for example. Extreme but I can’t think of any other horrible criminals at the moment.

    Have a great day! :o)

  19. pagansister says:

    RomCath: Even though you are wrong as usual about what I believe, it’s always good to see that you haven’t changed. Hope you are doing well. :o)

  20. pagansister says:

    Deacon Lang, One more thing. Let me clarify one thing—forcing the prisoners to attend a religious service is probably not something that would be considered necessary, and I would consider not right.
    And as for your presentation above—I understood it was said with charity and peace. Peace be with you also, Deacon Lang.

  21. pagansister says:

    Think Ad Orientem answered that question about fire arms. Thanks A O.

  22. One of the very first things I learned in my orientation to jail (not prison) was that wine of no kind get’s in. We had a priest who had permission for mustum, so he would, on those infrequent occasions Mass is offered in Jail, celebrate. Our jail is community has an opportunity for a Communion service usually conducted by the (me) deacon. This was also a topic of discussion on a Jail Ministry class I took through PCJ. I think the bot6tom line comes down to what the jail commander is going to allow. Even the sheriff won’t take an action without the jail commander’s involvement. The whole issue of what religious freedoms are retained by prisoners/inmates is really quite fascinating. If you’re interested in such a thing.

  23. It would/has survived court challenges going back to the days of the [frequent] incarceration of the Berrigan brothers who wished to celebrate Mass for their fellow inmates/prisoners

  24. I’ve been in our county jail quite a bit now and have learned that the chance to get out of the POD is a great motivator. We offer what is announced to the inmates as a CATHOLIC bible study. Most of our attendees are Catholic in so far as they knew one once. Many of these souls are truly interested in learning more about the Lord regardless of the faith tradition. A bigger part of them just want the opportunity to be someplace else that where they spend their days. They come, we spend time in prayer and sharing. We leave; they go back to the same POD where they’ll be for the next 24 hours. They tell me that state facilities are much better than county, and if you can get into the Federal system you’re really doing well. The guys I deal with are very specific in their views that religion matters more in jail than in prison

  25. “Or they could allow another priest in who was willing to use grape juice. One question, and I’m asking with respect—-it is not possible for the grape juice to be (am not sure of the proper word) transformed(?) into the blood of Christ?”

    No it is not possible to use grape juice. Ever. It is invalid matter. Period.

  26. Wine or mustum are a requirement for a valid Eucharist. Grape juice is not a valid substance for a valid Eucharist. Grape juice is allowed by many Protestant groups, but not by the Catholic Church.

  27. pagansister says:

    Thank you Eyore15, for your insight. I appreciate the view from someone who has worked with the inmates.

  28. pagansister says:

    OK then, RomCath. Just thought I’d ask. :o)

  29. pagansister says:

    Rick, I knew grape juice was used in some Protestant churches, as I was raised a Methodist. Why is wine the only valid drink, I wonder. Do you know? Or is it just tradition to use wine?

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