Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: "Rebuild My Church"

The interior of "Martyrs of Uganda" Catholic Church in Detroit.  Parish was closed in 2006.

The above photo served as a reality check for me on a couple of levels.  I had just read this article about the next spate of parish consolidations and closures in the Archdiocese of Detroit.  The linked article features St Leo's parish, which NCR readers will know is the parish at which Bishop Tom Gumbleton served for years--and still does.  The photo above is of another parish located in a similarly blighted Detroit area.  The destruction of the interior has taken just five short years, aided by looters and the homeless looking for shelter. The city of Detroit is in serious straights and those straights are mirrored in the Archdiocese and in too many respects the Archdiocese reflects the incomprehensible damage the Roman Catholic Church in the West has suffered at the hands of it's leadership. 

As I look at the interior of the Martyrs of Uganda, I can't help but reflect that Cardinal Vigneron's predecessor, Cardinal Maida, sunk over 35 million of the Archdiocese's money into the JPII Center in Washington DC.  A boondoggle of a project that was just recently purchased by the Knights Of Columbus and will never ever make any money or be able to pay back Archdiocese of Detroit.  Taken together, the two buildings paint a damning picture of  the real priorities of too many of our bishops.  In Maida's case his hero worship of JPII was taken to Imperial levels at the expense of the desperate jobless poor of Detroit.  That one bankrupt DC building will ultimately be responsible for the creation of many more 'Martyrs of Uganda' and this go round of closure will take out St Leo's, a beacon of hope in an otherwise very destitute downtown landscape.  A sort of "Martyrs of Detroit'.

And yet on another level, the above photo speaks to the spiritual soul of Roman Catholicism in the twenty first century--at least in the West.  What appears to be an invincible edifice on the outside, is rapidly decaying on the inside, being cherry picked by spiritual leeches for it's last bit of life. 

My hope and prayer for 2012 is that those who truly care about the soul of this Church, and I know that includes many silent voices in leadership, use 2012 to engage in a serious reality check.  The real Catholic Church in the US is not about Cardinal George making KKK references about gays, or Archbishop Dolan spouting affirmative nonsense, or Cardinal Donald Wuerl pretending he's on the same theological level as Sr Elizabeth Johnson. It's about the thousands of 'Martyr's of Uganda' being closed in the middle of our poorest sections of our poorest cities.  It's about the rot that comes when one chooses to serve Mammon and a self serving tradition over the service to others and complete detachment from material desire called for by The Way. 

St Francis heard God command him to "rebuild my church", and Francis took it literally and rebuilt St Damiano, another abandoned and decayed sacred place.  God is again making the same call.  How many will answer?


  1. Symbols speak. Contrast this picture with the next one down on your home page showing the hierarchs in their meeting room.

  2. Funny you should mention that because when I finished posting this I inadvertently scrolled down and was stopped dead at that same photo. What a contrast, and it wasn't consciously intentional.

  3. Powerful commentary and a very telling photo.

  4. An article showing Catholic justice at its best:

    The villain ? SNAP, natch. Never mind the lying filth in Holy Orders who make the work of SNAP absolutely essential in the Church. The Catholic Church is very bad for your blood pressure :) - there is so much evil in it, yet it adores itself so much.

    The JP2olatry is sickening - what's worse is that so many JP2-themed things went up in his lifetime.

    What the Church should do is go back to having house-churches. That would have its difficulties - but it would at least mean that an underused building did not cost millions for upkeep every year.

    From a Vatican document on the reorganisation of U.S. dioceses:

    "Finally - and this will not be in the document, and will probably be part of recommendations provided to the individual bishops, there is great concern about the consequences of the payment of damages for the abuses. Some dioceses, such as Boston, led by the Franciscan Cardinal O'Malley that have been particularly affected by the abuse phenomenon, are extremely generous. But they may run the risk of not being able to pay for pensions and healthcare assistance to elderly priests. The document will advise the creation of a guaranteed safety net for people such as these who are particularly vulnerable."

    ## That last sentence is priceless.

  5. I too was strangely drawn to this photo and that article yesterday. Deja vu. Without judging the past too harshly, I have often wondered if the death of inner city parishes in Philly like my childhood one could have been stemmed - the white flight to new white parishes in the burbs could have had a whole different outcome 40 years later if the culture war on birth control had rather been a brotherhood campaign of tolerance between the races.
    Yes it is time for many St. Francis of Assisi's to rebuild so much of what was so casually thown away with the bones off many American bishops' dining tables.

  6. A tolerance campaign may have helped and was a necessary part of trying to stem white flight, but would have been far from sufficient.

    Dealing harshly with criminals, maintaining standards of conduct, drug treatment and education, maintaining and improving housing, calming panics through community organizing, and investing in older neighborhoods were all needed. Even if all were done, they may not have been sufficient. In the end, the American baby boom probably wasn't going to raise their children in 5th floor walk-ups.

    Possibly the biggest single factor was not building large, high-rise projects that changed neighborhoods instantly. In the end, resisting demographic change is like trying to stop the earth's plates with a crowbar. Gradual change would have at least given people time to think.


  7. The last two generations of bishops have run the church like it is AT&T with a mass schedule.

  8. A few days ago Patrick made a very American comment, saying "Agree 100%. I believe the lack of a state church is the main thing that has made religion far more vibrant in the U.S. than in Europe.

    Even in the early 90s, I felt like I was visiting museums rather than active houses of worship in Germany and Austria.

    Martyrs of Uganda Church doesn't look very vibrant to me. Colleen links to an article from Reuters which describes a somewhat more vibrant parish, St. Leo's, which is nonetheless dying. Viewing the slideshow reminded me of a book of photographs by Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre called "The Ruins of Detroit". (Aside: I solved the cut and paste problem by switching to Safari from Firefox, Colleen.)

    The decline of the United States is not a recent phenomenon, as witnessed by the abandoned ruined centers of so many major American cities. None of the major institutions, none of the major religions, have been spared, as the "Ruins" slideshow demonstrates so well. I am very familiar with Detroit, but approach it as a typical Canadian might, as a fascinatingly attractive dangerous place. It astounds me that Cardinal Maida could remove any money, let alone $35 million, from serving the obvious urgent needs of his diocese. I showed some members of my family photos of the JP2 Center without disclosing the nature of the building. They thought it was a prison. They understand and appreciate modern architecture, just not this particular building.

    I thought of the "Martyrs of Uganda" which could be the martyrs of Rwanda, or Burundi. As troubling as the sexual abuse of children is, and should be, what are we to make of the church's failings in other areas? Why does the Vatican have such high expectations of Africa when it has a less than stellar record on that continent? See: Genocide and the role of the Church in Rwanda

    Time and again the Vatican and leadership of the RC Church have been caught out, tending to support the political power status quo rather than the cause of biblical justice. In the 1930's in Germany, in the 1990's in Rwanda, or in the 2000's in the Ireland and the USA, the weak, poor, and exploited, find themselves less than valued by the Church. (For those not familiar with the Rwandan genocide that pitted the Hutu against the Tutsi, one million were slaughtered in 100 days.) See: For Rwandans the pope's apology must be unbearable.


  9. p2p, you have brought up a part of my thought process about the photo I did not address. That the Church whose interior is so devastated was named for the 'Martyrs of Uganda' when the Church itself had members brought up on war crimes charges in Rwanda. That fact did not escape me.

    This photo is so deep with meaning and so prophetic, I have to salute the Reuter's photographer who took it: Mark Blinch.

  10. For all who have wondered if the consolidation of inner city parishes could have been stemmed, I have to say I'm not sure. The exodus to the suburbs coupled with the exodus out of the priesthood and lay people out of the Church is undoubtedly to much exodus to handle. But I think the real message is that the Institutional Church has for too long marched it's way on an exodus out of The Way of Christ and into self idolatory.

    I suspect the only way we can turn this around is to admit we lost the path. I sure don't see that happening in the near future.

  11. The Way or The Way of Christ were the simple name of the Church prior to calling itself Catholic or Universal. It was at this stage that masses were held in the homes of individuals without the use of sacramental holy orders. Since the Bishops fail to see that the failure of so many parishes and the shutting of so many churches were caused by their own poor leadership, it leaves it to the laity to support the kind of church that will indeed follow The Way.

    It is the Roman church that has certainly lost its way. Since simple leadership changes are not possible in a totalitarian institution, it is time for the People of God to bring into accord their own leadership that would have very little to do with the present Episcopacy. This is happening now at the parish level in Austria and at the Papal University in Lima, Peru which has refused to recognize the authoritarian demands of Rome. This is the beginnings of a change from the laity and "simple clergy," that will be fought for several years in many diocese, parishes Universities and "Catholic Hospitals." The Bishops will continue to loose respect of the People of God for loosing their way in failing to practice in "The Way of Christ." The Bishops have proven themselves very poor administrators but worse very poor at leading people toward spirituality. The laity are now responsible for finding their own way in a spiritually dark and dreary Roman Institution.

  12. The rulers in the Church with authority, such as Cardinal Maida, have squandered their talents, faith and money that was given to them in charity and care from those they had no true respect or love for. The result is a mass of rubble and decay, a moss floor, a broken unplayable organ, a tomb. The politicians have done similarly in picking our pockets at every chance for more money and engaging in schemes to get rich quick or for notoriety for themselves. Peoples lives have been changed forever by these men and not in a beautiful way conceived in any love for them. They both are rich and the world they offer is as poor as the results of their performance. The picture of the remains of the Church is a rotten reminder of the alliance with the love of mammon that some in positions of power prefer over and above any desire to love God.

    Had those in powerful positions listened to the people other than the one's that they did, the world would not resemble this.