He has seen "spiritual death" and "many conversions" on the force.
He has also seen some Catholic officers keep "their brokenness, their pain" to themselves, rather than seek the comfort of the Church, which, to him, has been "like a mother."
"I pray for them every day," he said of his fellow officers, both for their physical and spiritual well-being.
Brotherton added that, besides prayer, one simple thing Catholics can do to support their officers is to thank them.
"It has happened five times to me in 28 years," he said. "But they are little rays of sunlight in a very dark world."
A vital role to keep officers anchored in faith is the chaplaincy.
According to Father John Harth, spokesman for the International Conference of Police Chaplains and editor of the ICPC Journal, there is a growing demand for police chaplains.
"The opportunity for chaplaincies has grown, and many more departments are creating chaplaincies," he said.
Above all, it is a "ministry of presence" - the protocols for chaplains preclude proselytization - that requires chaplains to be creative in finding opportunities to build relationships with officers. This kind of ministry, the priest quipped, often takes the shape of the old joke, "Don't just say something - stand there!"
"The best opportunity is the ride-along," said the priest, explaining that police officers generally are very quiet about what is going on in their lives. Accompanying an officer patrolling his beat can help build trust and open doors. Father Harth explained that he ministers to police officers, emergency personnel and firefighters within the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo.
The challenge the Church faces, however, is that while the demand for Catholic chaplains has increased, the aging and declining number of priests in the U.S. makes it difficult to fill those roles. Many Catholic priest-chaplains are part time and have other duties. Bishops also may not be too keen to have priests take on chaplaincy roles, as they are often stretched thin with other assignments.
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"Almost all chaplains are volunteers; there are very few full-time chaplains," Father Harth said. Although not every priest is called to chaplain service, he suggested that the local Church could show its support for police officers by holding "Blue Masses" for police and their families.
"It's not very widespread," he remarked.
Looking to Deacons
The Church also could look to permanent deacons, especially from well-formed Catholics on the force, Father Harth noted, saying they can provide many ministry functions and counseling, even if they cannot hear confessions or offer Mass.
Officer Charlie Carroll - who has spent 10 years with the New York Police Department (NYPD), starting with patrolling some of the city's roughest neighborhoods - told the Register that he is studying for the diaconate at the invitation of the Archdiocese of New York.