For more than 56 years, the Rev. William Paul Austin has addressed the spiritual needs of others. For the last 29, that’s included celebrating Communion at the old Craggy state prison [Asheville, NC] and Mass at the New Craggy medium- and minimum-security facilities, complete with sacramental bread and wine. Until recently, says the ordained Episcopal priest, there’d never been a problem.
But on April 28, Austin explains, he was approached by two guards who wanted to inspect the box in which he keeps his chalice. They found a bottle containing 3 ounces of wine and asked Austin if he’d brought it for himself. He answered that it was for Communion at the Thursday night Episcopal Mass.
A week later, Austin received a letter from the N.C. Department of Public Safety informing him that he’d been dismissed as a community volunteer for serving alcohol to inmates in violation of departmental policy. According to the Policy & Procedure Manual, “Only the religious official leading the rite may consume alcohol. Inmates are not allowed to consume ANY alcoholic beverages while in the custody of the Department of Public Safety.”
The article goes on to say that state law is on the pastor’s side.