Notes from Across the Atlantic
Peter Mitchell FAITH Magazine March – April 2012
SEEDS OF PURIFICATION
As the curtain rises on Election Year 2012, the Catholic Church in the United States finds itself undergoing historic changes that indicate that the future face of the Church on these shores will be much different from what it has been historically. There is growing hostility from the "dictatorship of relativism" that makes it ever more difficult to serve the traditional family. Faced with dwindling numbers and an ageing infrastructure, especially in the traditionally strong Catholic bastions of the nation's largest cities, painful decisions must be made about how best to continue the mission of proclaiming the Gospel in a dramatically different cultural setting. Yet at the same time there is an ever-growing hunger for Christ as people search for meaning and stability in the midst ofgrowing uncertainty about the future. The following stories are, for those who "read the signs of the times", indicators that the witness of the Church, less and less welcome in the secular culture that surrounds us, has never been more important or necessary.
In Illinois, Catholic Charities announced at the end of December that it would be closing its doors after the State of Illinois required that children be given up for adoption to same-sex couples. For nearly a century, Catholic Charities has helped poor and neglected children (whether Catholic or not) to find homes with loving families ready to nurture them. Last year, the State of Illinois cancelled >30 million worth of contracts with Catholic Charities because the agency refused to place children with couples united under the State of Illinois' civil-union law passed in November 2010. Catholic Charities, present in several different dioceses, argued before the state courts that it should not be forced to place children in families whose lives are not in accord with Catholic teachingon marriage, that is, with unmarried couples, either hetero- or homosexual. Although legislators had assured Catholic Charities that it would receive religious protection, the courts decided otherwise, finding Catholic Charities in violation of so-called non-discrimination laws regarding same-sex unions. Because Catholic Charities was judged to be promoting discrimination, the State of Illinois decided to withdraw all funding from Catholic Charities' adoption services, without which the agency cannot operate. Hence the heart-rending decision of the Illinois bishops to close its doors. In the words of Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, both a civil and canon lawyer, "In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated." Coverage of the decision in the local andnational media was predictably slanted to portray the Church as closed-minded and uncaring. The New York Times noted that the bishops have an "idea" that religious Americans are "the victims of government-backed persecution", while painting their decision to eliminate adoption services as slamming the door in the face of the loving members of the gay community. The Illinois decision mirrors similar decisions recently in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, and it only seems that more will follow as other states move towards passing civil-union legislation in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Church in Philadelphia is undergoing a painful downsizing, as newly installed Archbishop Charles Chaput announced in early January that 48 Catholic schools (both elementary and high schools) will be closed and/or consolidated at the end of the present academic year. When he arrived in Philadelphia last September, Archbishop Chaput inherited the work of a commission that had been studying how best to address the dwindling resources of the Catholic school system. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia once boasted one of the United States' largest and most culturally embedded Catholic school systems, with a peak enrolment of well over 200,000 students in the early 1970s. In recent years enrolment has shrunk to just 68,000, and in the past decade nearly 40 schools have already beenclosed. Soon to follow is a parish study that many anticipate will call for the closure of up to a quarter of the Archdiocese's parishes by the end of next year. Chaput also announced in early January that the Archdiocese will be selling the stately Cardinal's residence, a 12,600 square-foot mansion purchased by Archbishop Dennis Cardinal Dougherty in 1935 and a Philadelphia landmark. In announcing the need for restructuring to a local Church still reeling from the clergy abuse scandals that dominated its news in the last year, Chaput spoke bluntly about the imperative to face the present moment realistically and honestly: "No family can run on nostalgia and red ink. Every parent knows this from experience. And so it is with the Church. We have a moral duty to use our resourceswisely not just in education, but in every aspect of our life as a believing community. If we haven't always done that in the past, then we need to start now." The Archbishop's words (and even more so his example) are clear: the witness of the Church in these times must take on a new simplicity and frugality. The process is undeniably painful, but Chaput is ever confident that this purification will better enable the Church to embrace her mission of bearing witness to the Gospel in a more convincing manner.
Lest all of this seem a bit disconcerting, the Church in the United States can take some consolation from the fact that it has an eloquent and exuberant spokesman at the helm who is convinced that the Church has a life-giving and joyful message to bring into the public square. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, named a Cardinal by Pope Benedict on January 6, has given the public face of the Church in the nation's media capital a much-needed dose of respectful attention. On the morning of his nomination as Cardinal, he announced the honour with his trademark humour and genuineness on NBC's nationally watched Today show. Panning off the honour on the entire Big Apple, Dolan quipped, "It's as if Pope Benedict is putting the red hat on top of the Empire StateBuilding, or the Statue of Liberty, or on home plate at Yankee Stadium; or on the spires of Saint Patrick's Cathedral or any of our other parish churches; this is the successor of Saint Peter saying to the clergy, sisters, brothers, lay faithful of this archdiocese, and to all of our friends and neighbours of New York: Thank you! Keep up the good work! You are a leader, an inspiration, to the Church and to the world."
Let's pray that 2012 may continue to see the Holy Spirit giving the Church both here and throughout the world the courage and joy that it needs to be a light in the darkness during uncertain times.