Adoration Can Open Locked Church Doors

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—One pastor here remembers how it was when he was younger.

“We always felt that the church was God's house and people had the right to go into it any time of the day or night that they wished to speak with him,” he said.

Things are different today.

With recent news reports of crimes ranging from a missing ciborium in Miami to the murder of a Connecticut priest, he locks his church as soon as the last Mass ends and keeps it locked all night except for special 24-hour devotions.

“Church security is [now] a science,” said Matthew Kaminski, risk manager for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “If you follow an aggressive stance to prevent a problem, you typically come up with some good results.”

James Kerstoffersen, risk manager of Catholic Mutual Insurance of Omaha, spends much of his time schooling church officials on how best to protect their buildings from damage by accidents, as well as illegal intrusions.

“If a church is plagued by break-ins, the most effective method to reduce them is the installation of a security alarm system,” he told the Register.

Kerstoffersen said his company also recommends that parishes lock doors whenever the church is unoccupied.

The use of a church — having people present in the building — is the key to keeping churches open beyond the schedule of Masses.

Father Joseph Jacobberger, the rector of St. Mary's Cathedral, in Portland, Ore., lamented that he is not able to keep the principal church of the diocese open even during daylight hours because it is located in a high-crime area that includes significant drug traffic.

The priest explained his frustration: “For a long time I kept toying with the idea of how nice it would be to have the cathedral open all day, especially since that [is] the case in Seattle and San Francisco,” where steady streams of visitors discourage mischievous behavior.

“Crimes against businesses,” including churches, said Kerstoffersen, “are usually crimes of opportunity — the reduction of opportunities for crimes will prevent loss.”

Watching from the Loft

Several churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., remain open during daylight hours through a volunteer program in which parishioners take hour-long turns that they spend in prayer in the choir loft — watching over the church and near a specially installed phone that can be used in case of an emergency.

Programs of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament provide a steady flow of visitors who, because of their constant presence, discourage would-be burglars and vandals. Some pastors are reluctant to consider adoration for fear that open access to the church will only invite crime and troublemaking.

Father Patrick Battiato introduced perpetual adoration at his parish with those issues in mind, and not just because his parish, Holy Family, is located in Security, Colo.

“I installed a thorough security system to make people feel safe,” said Father Battiato, who added that residents have since reported noticeably less crime and drug activity in the area.

In Detroit, spiritual benefits of adoration have been apparent in a depressed section of the city since perpetual adoration was initiated in 1995 at St. Maron's Maronite Catholic Church. “This has been a real discovery; it has changed this whole area of the city,” said the pastor, Msgr. Joseph Feghali. “Those who come to pray leave different people.”

Most of those interviewed by the Register reported that the rate of church break-ins has fallen in recent years.

John Scholl, director of insurance for the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., said he has seen a marked drop in diocesan insurance claims for damage and losses caused by intrusions.

“It is true that things have changed for the better,” Scholl said. “And this is because Church leaders today are getting professional help in how to guard against break-ins and how to handle them when they do come about.”

They may also be getting some help from lay people who make the effort to pay in their churches — during the night as well as the day.

“The people have a great desire to pray and we pastors have the responsibility to help them,” said Msgr. Frank Bognano, a pastor in the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, and an advocate of perpetual adoration.

“It falls to us, their pastors, to open the doors of the churches and to trust the people to fulfill their deeply felt urge to pray, adore and be close to their Lord.”

Bob Holton writes from Memphis, Tennessee.