Tag Archives: Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Resolve to come back to church

In these first few days of the New Year many of us are struggling with beginning resolutions to improve our lives. For many this involves losing weight and getting in better physical shape. For some it involves straightening out their financial lives.

No matter what your particular resolution, deciding to go back to Church, or perhaps even to go to Church regularly for the first time in your life, would be the single most important and rewarding for yourself and your family.

Going to Church requires taking care of a few formalities first, such as which Church to attend. There are many ‘fly-by-night’ operations out there disguised as churches. There are also any number of churches run by a strong pastor wholly dependant on that one person, always a dangerous proposition.

At the risk of alienating some, I am going to make a very brief case for you to give the Roman Catholic Church a try. Most of you probably already know which Catholic parish in which you live. If you don’t just visit the Archdiocese website at archphila.org or give them a phone call at 215-587-3600.

The Catholic Mass is one of the most solemn and comforting services that you will ever experience. The solemnity comes from it’s respect and reverence for the experience of worship. There is rarely any jumping around or hollering or dancing here. Prayer, scripture, and sacrament are the highlights of a Catholic Mass.

When you attend a Catholic Church service you are getting virtually the same general Mass service being experienced by hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics the world over on any given Sunday.
There is a structure to the Mass involving two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word involving scriptural readings from both the Old and New Testaments, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist involving the preparation for and receiving of the Body of Christ.

In the Liturgy of the Word there are three readings. The first is always going to be by a lector and will come from the Old Testament, giving a teaching or passage from the traditional books of the Bible familiar to both Christians and Jews.

The second is also from a lector and is going to be from the New Testament, usually from Paul’s mission and that of Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of his death.

Finally there will be a reading by the Priest from one of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John relating to some incident directly involving Jesus Christ.

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest will present and bless the bread and wine, and with God’s help will turn it into the body and blood of Jesus Christ in a process known as Transubstantiation. During this portion of the Mass there will be traditional praying of the Lord’s Prayer, the ‘Our Father’, a greeting among the community in offering one another a Sign of Peace, and then the actual receiving of the Lord in the Eucharist or Communion ceremony.

The entirety of the normal Catholic Mass service will take up about an hour of your time on any particular Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Depending on the size of the parish, Mass is offered 3-4 times on Sunday mornings. Also at many Catholic churches the Mass is offered in a 5pm or 6pm service on Saturday evenings for those who have to work or otherwise cannot make it to church on a Sunday morning.

As far as financial responsibilities, there are collections taken up as ‘offerings’ to the Church. Usually there is one main collection that will be for the support of your particular parish. There may be a 2nd collection directed towards a particular purpose, such as supporting the Church in a particularly difficult area of the world.

If you become a registered member of a parish, which you can and should do once you determine to which you belong, you will receive weekly envelopes in which to place your collection offering. There are guidelines suggested, but give as little or as much as you feel you can afford. If you cannot afford a formal offering on a regular basis, go to the Church anyway, and perhaps find some other small way to support the efforts, including through your prayers.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world with more than a billion members made up of 1/6th of the planet’s population. By joining the Church you join that support system in an institution tracing it’s origins directly back to the Apostle Peter, Christ’s hand-picked choice as “the Rock upon which” the Lord’s Church would be built.

There are some usual criticisms that you will hear about the Catholic Church that usually come across in four usual challenges by non-believers or advocates of other churches. These challenges involve staleness or blandness of the Mass ceremony, the priest sexual abuse, praying to statues or images, and the Papacy.

First, Catholics do not ever pray to statues or paintings or any other image. We put no image above or in place of God. What we will do regularly is ask for the intercession of Jesus’ mother Mary or the holy men and women from the Church’s past known as ‘Saints’ to pray to God on our behalf. We can and do pray directly to God, and believe that the intercession by these other holy individuals can help as well.

Secondly, where one man or woman might find the Mass boring many others find it beautiful, and I am firmly in that second group. Within that one short hour you get many opportunities to participate in group prayer, personal reflection and prayer, sacramental participation, and the singing of hymns. One Priest will indeed be more dynamic or personally charismatic than another, but it is the content of the Mass that is most important, not the individuals making the presentation.

Where the Priest abuse scandals are concerned, they are a fact of Church history that would be a mistake to ever ignore or deny. That denial and cover up went on for far too long, and no one is more ashamed or angered by that fact than Church members. Here I always point out an old saying to critics: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

There are many, many thousands of good men around the world today serving God as Catholic Priests. These are men who have no taint of personal scandal, and who deserve our admiration and respect for giving up a worldly life in service to God and our community.

The Church is much more than the actions of rogue, degenerate men in Priestly garments. We are the community of God’s people, and we will overcome this challenge and defeat Satan the same way the Lord’s people have always done, by learning from mistakes and strongly addressing them, and by standing together and leaning on prayer and on the Word of the Lord in moving forward.

Finally, those outside the Church simply are wrong when they say that we the Pope is the “head of the Roman Catholic Church” and that we place the Holy Father above Jesus or put him right along side God. The fact as all Catholics know is that Jesus Christ is the head of the Catholic Church. The Pope is the spiritual leader of the Church, and has himself lived a life guided by and inspired by God.

Just as with any large and historically established institution, there will always be critics of the Church. Don’t let their easily defeated challenges influence your decision to join or come back to the Catholic Church. Pray for your own personal inspiration from God, set aside one hour for a few weeks and actually come to Mass, and open up your heart and mind to the opportunity.

I personally have experienced the power of returning to the Church myself and can tell you without hesitation that it will be the most rewarding resolution that you can keep this New Year.

Low times for Catholic Highs

North Catholic students in 1954 during the school’s heyday

 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the other day that two of its long time iconic high schools, North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, would be closing at the end of the current school year.

Reaction from students and their families at the two schools, each of which had once held the distinction of being the largest Catholic high school for boys by attendance in the world, as well as from alumni of the two schools, came swift and strong.

Many of the students had dreamed of graduating from North and Dougherty, some of these students as ‘legacies’ who were the sons and grandsons of alumni. The loss of the schools would break family traditions stretching back for generations.

There would also be day-to-day changes for the students, such as travel arrangements to new schools and trying to fit in socially at an entirely new environment.

For alumni, the issues included the loss of tradition and a perceived elimination of a large slice of their own teenage memories. These former students and graduates had walked the ‘hallowed halls’ at North and Dougherty. They had competed for the sports teams, participated in the clubs, attended the religious services, and got their groove on at the dances and proms.

When North Catholic opened in 1926 it enrolled approximately 450 students. By the post-World War II years the school enrollment had swelled to more than 4,000 young men. By 1953, that enrollment had grown over 4,700 students, and North Catholic was recognized as the largest Catholic high school for boys in the entire world. It was a slow downhill from there as far as attendance figures.

By the late-1970’s, with North Catholic celebrating its 50th anniversary, total attendance had fallen to about 2,700 students. The total dropped below the 2,000 mark by the early 1980’s.

Though there are now approximately 40,000 alumni of North Catholic high school, the actual 2008 attendance had plummeted to just 750 total students.

The story is similar at Cardinal Dougherty, which opened in 1956. By the 1960’s, Dougherty enrollment had swelled past the 6,000 mark as the school took over the title of largest Catholic boys school in the world. But attendance plunged in the same way it would over at North. By 2008, there were just 784 total students at Dougherty.

When you consider these figures, it is really not that hard to figure out why buildings and facilities originally created to hold between 4,000-6,000 students and now held a little more than 700 each could not continue.

But many students and alumni are placing the blame elsewhere. The rise in tuition costs. The cost of legal defense for Catholic priests accused and convicted in the sex abuse scandals.

Sadly, these Catholics are completely missing the real reasons why enrollment has plunged to the point that schools need to be closed.

For the America of the ‘Baby Boomer’ years during the two decades immediately following World War II, the Catholic Church was a major institution and a concrete part of family life. Families were still together, and many of those were large and thriving.

Divorce was almost unheard of at that time, and a typical Catholic family would have four or five children or more. These kids grew up to attend the neighborhood Catholic elementary and high schools as a matter of course.

Tuition in the 1960’s was approximately $200-250 per student at most Catholic high schools in Philadelphia. Today those figures have risen into the thousands, in some cases to more than $10,000 per year.

Of course, people who earned a salary of $5,000 per year back in the 1960’s are now making $50,000 in those same jobs today. Few people ever consider this fact when harping on tuition rises. The fact of the matter is that costs have soared for most of the same inflationary reasons that salaries have soared over the past five decades.

Catholic schools have an additional burden in that they continue to provide the best educational opportunities and resources. That includes the quality of teachers, facilities, programs, and the overall learning environment.

The cost of providing that quality is, however, now spread out over hundreds of students rather than the thousands of students attending the schools in earlier generations.

There is one major reason for all of the problems that leading to not only the anticipated closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty high schools here in Philadelphia, but also to closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools in recent years.

This one major reason also applies to the merger of my own alma mater, St. John Neumann boys high school in South Philly, with St. Maria Goretti girls high school back in 2004.

That one major reason is that Catholic families simply have fallen down on the job.

Catholic families began to have fewer and fewer children, to the point now where most Catholic families have approximately two children rather than the half dozen or more kids that was common a half century ago.

Reproductive demographics is only a part of the problem,  just a symptom of the bigger problem that I personally believe is spiritual in nature. Catholic families have not drifted away from the Church over the decades, they have sprinted away.

According to the results of a Gallup Poll released in April of 2009, attendance at Catholic churches has leveled off at approximately 45% after falling slightly below that figure in the immediate aftermath of the priest abuse scandals. In 1955 that figure had been a full 75% attendance for weekly Mass services.

The fact was, if you were a Catholic in our grandparents day, you went to Mass on Sunday – it was obligatory. The sad fact today seems to be that people take Mass attendance far too casually.

Also, where in those previous decades the idea of divorce was almost unheard of, today approximately 21% of Catholic Americans have been through a divorce according to religioustolerance.org figures.

The combination of the deterioration of Catholic family size, structure, and practice is at its core a spiritual problem.

Many Catholics have become more self-centered, more materialistic, more cynical and more willing to surrender to or flee from the problems posed by evil in the world rather than standing by their faith and fighting back. They have fled to other Christian denominations, or to no religious practice whatsoever, and have taken their smaller families along with them.

It is easy for people who want to assign blame, whether it be in the current struggles of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia or in any other area of life, to point at others. There may even be some validity to such accusations. But those same people need to sincerely look themselves in the mirror and ask some hard questions of the person looking back at them.

Do you go to Mass every week, or at least most weeks? Do you make it a priority for you and your family? Do you receive the Sacraments, especially Communion, but also including Confession/Penance?

Are you committed to your family, and especially if a young Catholic, are you committed to growing that family in number and raising your children as strong Catholics?

Did you, do you, or will you send your children to Catholic schools? Do you find a way to support the Church outwardly and proudly despite the shortcomings of some of its leadership?

If you can look yourself in the mirror and answer all of these questions positively, then congratulations, you are not really a part of the problem. But unfortunately you are also not in the majority of American Catholic families over the past few decades.

The answer to the problems which are now requiring the closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, that required the merger of Neumann and Goretti, and that have required the closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools can be found within ourselves, not in protest or in demonstrations.

We the people who make up the body of the Church need to return to our basic fundamentals of faith, prayer, and support for the Catholic Church. If we are not willing to do that, then more and more Catholic schools will meet the same fate in future years.

The official school motto at North Catholic is “Tenui Nec Dimittam” which translates to “What I have, I will not lose” which should be taken on as the new motto of all Catholics in Philadelphia and all across the United States of America.

My Catholic lament: Failure of my faith

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office this week released the results of a lengthy, indepth investigation into previously alleged charges of sexual abuse by priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The grand jury findings proved to be shocking and abhorant, showing dozens of priests over a multi-decades span sexually molesting and abusing young children.

To further compound the scandalous findings, the Church leadership and their representatives appear to be trying more of the same recipe that has proven disastrous to the victims, and to the Church body: deny, deny, deny.

No, there is no denial that molestation and abuse has gone on, that would be ridiculous in light of the now incontrovertible proof.

The denial aspect comes into play when Church leaders, particularly Cardinal Justin Rigali, put out vehement defenses for Cardinals John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua, his immediate predecessors.

In the grand jury findings, the two Cardinals are specifically singled out for a failure of leadership. They are accused of handling the problems as they surfaced over the years largely by sweeping them under the rug.

As the allegations would come to light and be found credible, priests were shuffled from parish-to-parish in a sort of shell game that did nothing to solve the problems, only serving to expose even more individuals to the predator priests practices.

It is long past the time for the Church to stop playing the same old game of denial, and instead it is overdue that the Church and it’s leaders take on the full measure of their responsibility for these grave sins against it’s own membership.

I am a lifelong Catholic, and from what I can gather from speaking with and observing my own family and friends, a fairly typical one. I go to Mass many weeks, but not every week. I donate funds to my Church, but probably not as much as I could, and certainly not as much as the Church would like me to donate.

I consider myself a good Christian, but sin continuously, only infrequently turning to the Church’s provisions of Confession/Penance to make my amends.

But the fact is that the Church expects these things of me. They expect me to live a Godly life. They expect me to resist temptation and the occasion of sin, that act of continually putting myself in potentially sinful situations, let alone the commission of sin itself.

They expect me to follow the Church teachings and leaders, to make appropriate donations to the Church causes, and as much as possible to evangelize on behalf of the Church by my words and deeds, particularly with my own children and family.

And you know what, I don’t mind. I don’t mind one little bit. In fact, I have come to expect all of these things of myself over the years. I have come to know that the Church is right in all of these expectations.

I don’t do it all, I don’t make the grade. I often fail, sometimes miserably. But the point is, I never give up. I never throw in the towel. I never throw up my hands and say that it’s all just too hard. I never abandon the Church.

And I won’t now either.

But the fact of the matter is, the Church owes me now. It owes us all something now. It particularly owes those who have been directly victimized by it’s priests over the years, and those people’s families.

The Church now owes every one of us it’s own transparency. For far too long, the game was one of cover and conceal within the Church walls.

If a priest had a problem in St. Gabriel’s parish, transfer him to St. Christopher’s parish, for example. Rather, every single priest who was found to have molested and/or abused any child should have been immediately removed from the priesthood. Period. And the authorities should have been notified of any charges, allowing a full and proper criminal investigation to take place.

Church leadership has tried to make the argument that it’s previous leaders, including Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua, acted in the ways that were most appropriate for their times, saying that things we now know about conditions like pedophilia were not known back then, and that the previous leaders handled the situations appropriately based on what they knew at that time.

That previous leadership did not recognize the obvious, outlandish, soul and life-destroying evil in the act’s of it’s dozens of pedophile priests is the biggest piece of lying garbage that the Church has tried to spew this past week.

It doesn’t matter what any current psychology or psychiatry of any particular era knew at that time. If you have a priest who is having sexual relations with a child, that is wrong, that is sick, and that is evil. Period.

The Church knows it now, it knew it then. To say otherwise is hogwash, and shows that the current leaders have a long way to go before winning back the full trust of it’s own faithful, let alone the good will of outsiders who don’t share that faith.

The Church needs to immediately take a number of steps to begin to turn around.

It first needs to fully acknowledge it’s own sinful past as an entity. It’s priests are it’s direct representatives to it’s parishioners, they are supposed to be direct representatives of God Himself.

Next, the Church needs to spell out exactly what steps it will take to handle any future accusations of this type. These steps must include immediate removal of accused priests from the care of children, a full internal investigation into any allegations, and a reporting to and full cooperation with law enforcement agencies. And when charges are substantiated, priests must be defrocked.

All of these steps in the process, when allegations are proven true, must be public and fully transparent.

Also, the Church must not stop at pedophilia. Any type of sexual activity by a priest or nun should be cause for removal from their position. The Church teaches that these individuals, it’s shepherds to the flock, are to be chaste. That covers both homosexuality and heterosexuality. You can’t live up to those expectations, don’t be a priest. Period.

My Catholic Church, Catholic meaning “One”, is supposed to be one full body, the one directly descended group of followers of Jesus Christ Himself, it’s leaders the direct descendants of Peter. We are one body as a group, the one anointed Church. As such, we are all culpable in this dark period. We all have sin to lament, atonements to make.

One morning this week, immediately after the grand jury findings were released, local Philadelphia talk radio icon Michael Smerconish related a story of how his children had made their Sacraments, and had received congratulatory letters from the Cardinal, and he asked “What am I to think now?”

He previously had looked on these letters, and the meaning behind them, with pride in his kids and respect for his Church.

I would say to Michael Smerconish that you should continue to look on those letters, but more importantly look on the attainment of these milestones of faith by your children with both love and pride. I would say to him that you should continue to teach your children the positive messages of Christ. I would say to him that you should remain faithful to the Church and all of it’s teachings.

I would also say to him, and to all Catholics across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and around the world, that you should, while continuing on your own sinful journey through this life, realize that the Church is led by men.

Wherever there are men trying to spread the Word of God, wherever there is that shining light, there will be a creature of darkness trying to snuff it out, using the weakness of man to accomplish that task.

Forgive yourself and your Church. Stay true to your faith. Never turn your back. Never
surrender to darkness. And don’t allow your Church to do it either. Hold the Church, and it’s leaders, accountable for their actions and inactions. By your own demands and expectations, show the Church that you support it’s demands on yourself.

May God fully heal the lives of the victims of this dark tragedy. May He heal those who have perpetrated this evil on those victims. May he enlighten our current and future Church leaders to change. And May He heal us all as one body. May he heal His, our, Catholic Church.