Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Philly At The Crossroads? Not When Both The Problems And Solutions Are On The Same Roman Road

As he did in Denver, AB Chaput is selling the Archbishops' Residence in Philadelphia.  It's a nice gesture but it ain't gonna solve the real problems in Philly or anywhere else.

Yesterday NCR posted an article written by Rocco Palma of Whispers in the Loggia fame.  In it he chronicles the coming evolution in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Except it's not an evolution, it's devolution.  In the case of Philadelphia it's all about consolidation of the bricks and mortar aspect of the Church.  I guess this is Mr Palma's way of overlooking the sad fact this consolidation is directly due to the exodus of Catholics out of Philly's pews.  It's not just about a consolidation and selling off of material property, it's also about the real life loss of hundreds of thousands of Philly Catholics.  It sure looks as if the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be exhibit number one for Pope Benedict's leaner and purer remnant Church.  The truly sad thing is that nothing will have changed in this leaner and purer remnant Church.  It will still be a breeding grounds for clerical abuses of all kinds unless the priests and laity of what's left of the Archdiocese demand something different.  In this respect, the ongoing priest abuse trials will keep this need for real reform front and center through 2012.  The following excerpt is the summary of the article:

.....As NCR went to press, advocates for local abuse victims were planning a Good Friday demonstration outside Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul to rally support for reform and keep their cause in the spotlight.

Surveying the last 14 months, a veteran pastor summed up the broad current of fatigue among Catholics with an exasperated, “What in the world will happen next?” The trial’s verdict remains in the balance, yet one significant outcome of the grand jury is already settled: The model of triumphalist clericalism that long defined American Catholicism’s “Last Empire” is dead, and something very different is beginning to rise in its place.
That’s not to say the new shape of things is clear -- it won’t be for some time, especially as the flock faces even more dramatic days over the weeks and months ahead.

After spending the last year in an investigatory “limbo,” final decisions on the fates of the 21 removed clerics are expected to emerge. And beyond the Lynn proceedings, a religious priest and lay teacher charged with abuse by the grand jury begin their trials in September, after which the civil litigation against the archdiocese will begin.

A considerable downsizing in bricks and mortar, however, is perhaps the most significant sign of the end of an era. Archbishop Charles Chaput has placed on the market the 13,000-square-foot mansion on nine acres where his predecessors have lived since the 1930s. (One thing about Archbishop Chaput, he never has gone in for this kind of ostentatious exhibitionism.  This isn't so much about a personal sacrifice for him as it is a symbolic statement for others.)

Despite the success of several appeals of school closings -- including a last-minute reprieve for four targeted high schools -- June will still bring the shuttering of 36 elementary schools.

And already under way is the first wave of an anticipated three-year process that could see the closing or consolidation of a quarter of the 268 parishes spread across five southeastern Pennsylvania counties.
Seven months on the job, Chaput’s tenure is shaping up as an uphill decade of gutting and rebuilding a 200-year-old apparatus. Like the last year, the road ahead won’t exactly be for the faint of heart.
Accordingly, both sides of my family are still coming to terms with the impending loss of the three schools that educated scores of our clan for the better part of a century. Even so, Mom was a bit more sanguine than before as the trial approached.

“It’s so horrible,” she said. “But at least it’s getting cleaned up.”


But what exactly is getting cleaned up?  I can think of two very important things that need cleaning up that won't happen under Archbishop Chaput because the Vatican won't let them get cleaned up.  The first is the dependency of the laity on the clergy for sacraments and salvation.  As long as their is a significant portion of Catholic laity who truly believe they somehow need a mediator for their relationship with Jesus the Vatican will not move one whit to change this spiritually immature dependency.  This dependency allows them to maintain the celibate male priesthood, whose lack of, is a major contributor to the loss of parishes and the exodus out of the pews.  For me personally, this refusal to adjust the sacrament of ordination to meet Eucharistic needs is just another criminal abuse of Catholic laity.  It continues because there is still enough of a remnant who truly believes the priesthood is necessary to their salvation.  It isn't.  The Eucharist is.

Secondly we need to move exactly in the direction that Vatican II was moving the Church.  We need to move to a communal understanding of Church in the world and away from the Church defended and separated from the world. Philadelphia, like many other dioceses, is moving in the exact opposite direction and creating mega parishes where the individual gets lost in the crowd.  Any real shepherd will admit that when the herd gets so big one cannot know and identify each animal, care suffers and the sick and needy are missed or overlooked.  At this point any honest shepherd reduces the herd or gets more shepherds, but Catholicism is going in just the opposite direction.  The herds are made bigger and the shepherds fewer.  There's another issue that bothers me about this.  The more isolated and powerless people feel, the less they care about what's being done by leadership.  This is a recipe for even more secret abuse, irresponsible stewardship, and outright criminal activity.  The only way Catholicism moves to smaller communities, which are more capable of responding to communal needs,  is with a whole lot more priests, necessitating a change in discipline, or a different concept of communal leadership all together.

If I'm being really honest, all this may be a moot point if there isn't a real updating of Catholic morality and spirituality so that it better fits what we now know from our scientific disciplines.  The core concepts taught by Jesus and experienced by our mystics are actually being affirmed by science A person would never know that listening to politicized sermons on gay marriage and the evils of contraception. So it strikes me that it is not the laity that needs to be re evangelized, it's our leadership.


  1. Andrew Greeley did a number of surveys in the 70s and 80s that showed that the number 1 factor that contributed to cradle Catholics remaining Catholic into adulthood and forming their own families was the experience of Catholic schooling. I would also venture to guess that today the Catholic school experience keeps families being Catholic IN SPITE OF the leadership of the hieracial church. Frankly if me child wasn't at a Catholic school right now (and her brother to follow in the Fall) we would probably be attending a local Old Catholic rite church now. And when the kids are done with school, I may well present myself for ordination there because of all the Roman craziness. I guess it depends on the next pope.

  2. Right now the church in Philly is being cleaned up in the Commonwealth court trial of Msgr. Wm. Lynn and Fr. James Brennan. Local law enforcement is on the job for this clean up.