Saturday, April 20, 2013

AB Chaput On The State Of His Archdiocese--It's A Mess

For AB Chaput, trading the Rockies for the Phillies was easier and more successful than swapping Archdiocesan management jobs.

Archbishop Chaput recently gave an acceptance speech for an award bestowed on him by Philadelphia's Catholic Philopatrian Literary Society.  He joins a long list of Philadelphia movers and shakers.  In this speech he was his usual pull no punches self.  His take on the state of health of the AD of Philadelphia is that of a patient on life support.  It's hard to see how Philadelphia will be able to pull off the World Meeting of Families with it's papal visit scheduled for 2015 without a huge influx of help from other dioceses.  The following is taken from with thanks to the NCR for first bringing this to my attention.

Archbishop gives stark, frank assessment of archdiocese at Philos dinner - 4/15/2013
In his acceptance speech it became clear that if you ask Archbishop Chaput a question he is not apt to sugar-coat the answer. Although he is happy to be Philadelphia’s Archbishop, he said his answer as to how he has enjoyed the past 19 months is, “I haven’t liked it at all.”

Quite honestly, “It has been an awful time,” he said. “We’ve had huge problems with the clergy which has been a great sadness to the Church, a great sadness for the priests and a great sadness for all of you here. I have had to make decisions about the future of their lives that have been extraordinarily difficult not only for them but for their families; their moms, their brothers and sisters.” (And no words about the victims of these priests and the difficulties for their families, and so in this respect, he carries on in a line of other self referential Philly clerics.)

Coupled with this, he said, “I have had to close about 50 schools and will be closing parishes in the next couple of years in a way that will be disappointing to a lot of people. We have financial problems that are unimaginable.”

The Philadelphia archdiocese does have a distinguished history and Archbishop Chaput listed some of its past accomplishments, for example the home of two saints, an honor shared in America only by Hawaii. It had the largest Catholic school system in the country. It is home to a large number of Catholic colleges and universities. It still had more parishes (until recently) than Los Angeles, which is more than three times as large in Catholic population.

“This is an extraordinary place,” Archbishop Chaput said. “But things have changed immensely.”
He pointed to the practice of faith, with Mass attendance hovering around 20 percent when it once was about 75 or 80 percent. The church and schools were built on the assumption that the high numbers would always be there. (It's a very different story when one's Archdiocese isn't being bolstered by immigration as was Denver during his tenure.  The truth of the Philly numbers speak directly to the disconnect between the Church and the post modern world.)

“Things have changed,” he said. “The problems we have financially are not admitting we have to change. Not in terms of our values and enthusiasm but in terms of how we look at our structures. We can’t keep open parishes that are empty; we can’t keep schools that have only 80 kids in them, we just can’t.” (And neither can you ignore the all important question:  "Why has this happened?" for which the answers might just involve 'values and enthusiasms').

Change, he said, is going to be awkward and difficult, but “if we are going to be the Church that Jesus Christ wants us to be, we have to be different.” (That's an understatement.)

The Archbishop reminded his audience that the early Church as established by Jesus had no buildings. The first Christians continued to worship at the Temple and synagogues until they were expelled and then the churches they built were very small. The Church, he said, “is not a building it is the people of God, all of us together.” 

Dealing with all of these problems that have built up over the years is a distraction. “I spend all of my time trying to figure out how we are going to do the next thing,” he said. “I ask your patience.” (Poor man. It's the price of monarchical leadership.)

As an archdiocese, “we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I hope that when I turn 75 and the Pope says it is time to retire and get out of here you will have a reason to give me an award. You don’t have any yet. But we will do it together because I know you love the Lord and love His Church. Let’s do it together.”


Wasn't it Jesus who said 'by their fruits you shall know them?'  Seems to me this was a cogent observation on the part of Jesus.  This stark assessment of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia proves His point.  Forty years of princely mismanagement has cost the Church in Philly 71% of it's practicing Catholic population.  Of course, the Princes of the Archdiocese had a lot of help from the Kings and Princes in the Vatican, but even with that help, Philly is a prime candidate for an award for Pope Francis' definition of a 'self referential' church.  

I actually have some empathy for AB Chaput.  He's worked his whole clerical life at the beck and call of Rome, participated in many a political machination, was involved in more than one 'investigation' and his reward is to oversee the rapid decline of one of America's premier historical Archdioceses.  He was the quintessential careerist and is now in a place where he must think and act creatively on his own.  He is thoroughly enmeshed in what the governance structure of Rome, the one he faithfully and blindly served,  has produced in Philadelphia.  

Unfortunately, he is singularly unprepared to deal with this mess with any kind of effectiveness now that his main enabler is off the papal stage.  He is too concrete a thinker, too black and white a decider, and too frequently reacts from the victim perspective.  When he is finished, most of the financial numbers will add up. The one for Mass attendance will not.  That one will continue to drop, unless Francis can somehow effect a global change in structure and pastoral emphasis that bypasses all the concrete thinkers, black and white deciders, and perpetual victims that his predecessors elevated to the hierarchy. 

AB Chaput in some ways is already a Francis cleric.  He is not ostentatious, has lived simply, was a member of a religious community before he was a bishop and maintains his connections.  But unlike Francis, Chaput has relished being in the political spotlight and used his episcopal positions to garner favor amongst right wing political and curial elites.  Since he doesn't appear to have done this for the usual perks, (other than career advancement which may not have been one of his goals) I have to believe he is truly a concrete, right wing,  victim thinker.  That is not the definition of a pastoral bishop.  If Chaput is to have any real impact on the one number that actually counts--the practicing Catholic number--he is going to have to undergo a radical conversion in his world view.  But in order to do that, he is going to have to stop thinking of himself as an unworthy victim constantly reacting too things, dependent on higher authority to bolster his authority.  He has to learn to accept himself as having the personal competence and the innate worthiness to successfully complete what he has been tasked to do. He has to stop whining and start winning hearts and minds. He has to learn to trust in others where he mistrusts in himself.  He has to pick up, what will be for him a true cross, in living Pope Francis' pastoral expectations.  If he can do it though, he will find that the fruits are different and the burdens are lighter.  He will then understand it's going to take real change on the part of the entire church hierarchy to really untangle the mess in Philadelphia.  It's not just on his shoulders.  If he can get that, he can then become part of meaningful solutions for the Philadelphia's everywhere on the Catholic globe, and there are a lot of them.


  1. Let's Pla Ball !

    One thing to remember about authoritarians; they're either at your throat or at your feet.

    I wasn't going to comment on this except that the sport analogy has been strong in your writing for the last month. Chaput knows what side his bread is buttered on, which way the wind is blowing, or whatever worn cliche you would like to use. He knows that his survival and status in the eyes of those above him depends on his reading of their intents. And it didn't take him more than a day or so to reject his reactionary bunch of counselors advice in the case of Caroline Pla. She was an 11 year old girl who had asked to the Archbishop to permit her to continue playing on a CYO boys football team:

    When Francis changes gender based rules and says jump, Chaput will be in the air before he asks "how high?"

  2. I have been using a lot of sports related metaphors, haven't I? Hmm. Must be due to spring, although we actually haven't had much in the way of spring around here. But baseball is in the air and the Stanley Cup play offs around the corner. Except maybe without the Wings for the first time in decades. Horror absolute horror.

    Chaput has done a few things as AB of Philadephia he hasn't done before, Caroline Pla being one of them. I just got such a strong hit reading this article that he is in sort of an existential crisis in which he is connecting some dots that threaten a lot of what he previously believed. Philadelphia is not Denver. This is either going to kill him or convert him. He's so black and white any ground in between will be passed over.

  3. Not yet. But I can imagine if he felt he could truly have his way he'd retire--to a Reservation.

  4. I had always suspected that Chaput was enjoying his rise within the hierarchy and that he saw Philadelphia as his guaranteed red hat. He might still get a red hat but I am reminded of the saying that is attributed to St. Theresa of Avila: " more tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."