Today, on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, the Pope announced the newest Cardinals that he will install on February 22, 2014. You can read about it here, “The Scarlet is Served – Pope Reveals 19 New Cardinals”. If you have been “cardinal watching”, you know that it was speculated that there would be no new American cardinals. Our own Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles were thought to be under consideration. However, their predecessors, Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Mahony, respectively, were still under the age of 80 and it is unusual to have 2 Cardinals within the same diocese.
Now, I must be honest. I have said this before but it bears repeating. I recognized the difficult job Archbishop Chaput undertook when coming to Philadelphia. I watched his intial welcoming to the city, his installation and felt strongly that he was doing the best job he could do, so I supported him and his efforts. I was genuinely sorry the Archbishop wasn’t a Cardinal so that he could participate in choosing our next Pope after Pope Benedict XVI retired. However, his Area Pastoral Planning Process failed the faithful people of Frankford, who last year had two churches, St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa, and today, have none. Reaching out to the Archbishop directly, and those representing him, we were told there would be no meeting, no consideration, as we repeatedly heard, “the decision has been made and we are not considering any changes.”
Well, we can take heart in Pope Francis’s words to us, “Dear Lay Faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.” We believe strongly that we must, each of us, take charge of our faith and be living witnesses to all we meet and to expect that we share in the priesthood of our clergy as well through our Baptism. (Today is, after all, the Baptism of our Lord that we celebrate.) That is our call to continue to reach out to all with the “Good News”, the joy of being Catholic.
As for our dear Archbishop Chaput, perhaps his heart could be more open to the Pope’s call as captured in his words on Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass,
“Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men.” (Refer to link in post to read the entire message.)
We have heard the Archbishop refer to himself as a manager. We have tried to thank the Archbishop. Even after he told me, at one of his Sunday night Masses, (and I was being pushed along by his security) that this was not the time or place to discuss such matters, (yet he would not make or give us any time or place to discuss such matters), I, instinctively turned around and said, “We love you, Archbishop”. I later wrote to him asking if he heard me.
The Archbishop is a good man, a holy man but we need to find another way besides closing churches, selling nursing homes and leasing cemetery grounds to balance our budget and reach our objectives. The very people that would help you, Archbishop, are the very people you are shutting out and turning away.
Isn’t that what all people want – just to be heard? So we continue. St. Joachim’s appeal was turned down by the Congregation of the Clergy. The ruling was that the Archishop did not do anything canonically wrong – he didn’t break canon law – but it was still not a right and just decision. Just this weekend, we filed an appeal with the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican Supreme Court. I believe we will be heard. I believe we will continue to do all within our power to reopen St. Joachim Church to continue the work of our ancestors in a community that wants to be heard and wants the healing that only our Lord Jesus Christ can provide.
Thank you for reading and God bless you!
This Saturday, September 14, 4:00 PM, Mater Dolorosa RC Church will open its doors to celebrate the Feast of Our Mother of Sorrows. Who better than a mother to understand our sorrow? Who better than the mother of our dear Lord to turn to and to implore her help to reopen a Church in Frankford?
When it was announced that both St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa Catholic Churches would be closing, to say that there was great disbelief in our community would be an understatement. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia can always make up contrived reasons for their actions but doing so doesn’t justify those actions.
As each parishioner was trying to make sense of the closing two neighborhood churches – Mater Dolorosa established in 1911 and St. Joachim in 1844, many asked questions and sought answers as to how this event came to pass. It has been 2 1/2 months since these churches were closed. That’s not a long time when one’s memories are much, much longer. So where are we now?
St. Joachim parishioners grouped together and formed Keep the Faith in Frankford. This name is really dual-purposed – to reopen one of our Catholic Churches and to use our faith to help Frankford become an even better place to be. St. Joachim filed an appeal to the Vatican as allowed under Canon Law. However, this can be a long and arduous process with no guarantee of success. Our overriding goal is to have a Catholic Church in Frankford as we have had for over 169 years.
To achieve that, it is time to unite and to bridge any divisions between us! If we truly want a Catholic Church in Frankford we need to stand together, to show the fire and strength of our faith and to act with the belief that God can accomplish all things if we are willing to let Him work through us! It is not easy to do this but we have been blessed with an opportunity to show that our faith doesn’t reside in these church buildings but in our God and in each other as we Live Jesus!
We must make this effort, not just for ourselves, but for our ancestors who passed on the faith to us and who believed in the goodness of God even during the darkest of times. We
must do it for our children, our grandchildren and all who will come after us.
Following his visit to Brasil for World Youth Day, the Pope shared the following words during his Sunday Papal Audience:
“the encounter with the living Jesus, in the great family that is the Church, fills the heart with joy, because it fills it with true life, a profound goodness that does not pass away or decay.”
We are family and the joy that Jesus gives us is lasting and cannot be taken away! Let us join together this Sunday as one family to celebrate our God and our faith! God bless you!
In a wide ranging interview on September 6, 2012 with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Chaput went into depth about his first year. You can read the entire interview here. It is the best I have come across and gives some perspective. Still this quote comes home:
Have parishes and schools at risk of being closed been informed?
I’m committed to telling them. We have reviews of many of our parishes going on now, and it’s been my insistence that the parishioners become part of those reviews so they can know what the problems are and suggest solutions.
People won’t be surprised [if their parish or school is closed], but they’ll still be angry, I’m sure. If they are surprised, it’s my fault.
Mater Dolorosa and St. Joachim parishioners are the case that proves the point. As I said before, nobody was surprised that a church was closed but nobody expected the decision to close both churches.
We were not part of the process.
When the history of this episode is written, the issue at the top of the list will be the money.
Harold Brubaker, in the Inquirer on July 5th, lists the financial woes that drive Archdiocesan financial planners. Years of financial mismanagement have brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.
There has been a problem with balancing the books every year. If they came up short, in the past they borrowed. That might mean not paying into the retirement fund. That solves the cash flow problem for a year but kicks the can down the road. The result is listed below. The long term liability could be $354 million or more.
$82.0 million – Shortfall from the trust-and- loan fund, which invests or makes loans from money collected from parishes.
$89.9 million – Shortfall from the priests’ pension fund.
$151.7 million – Shortfall from the lay employees’ retirement plan.
$30.4 million – Shortfall from a self-insurance reserve.
The $82 million gap also includes investment losses and reserves for bad loans to some parishes. The plan to pay that money back by selling real estate was formalized last year in a promissory note, essentially an IOU, to the trust-and-loan fund.
Translated into English, this means that the Archdiocese made loans to parishes that are not going to be repaid and some bad investments. They have not fully funded the retirement accounts for lay or priests. This is something that a lot of companies and governments do because its easy in the short run. In the end, that money is owed and has to be made up. Guess who is going to pay the bill. There is nobody else, it is you.
The issue is clear enough for now. They closed Mater Dolorosa and St. Joachm, both of which were financially self sufficient. Why would they do that? I believe the idea was that those assets would be better used by transferring them to another larger parish. Small parishes like ours are expendable.
On the other hand, some may be too big to fail. Does that sound familiar. From Harold Brubaker and the Inquirer on October 1, 2012:
St. Martha parish in the Far Northeast, with 2,200 registered households and nearly 7,000 people on June 30, 2011, owed $637,500 on an archdiocesan loan for a parish center that opened in 2004. Between 2009 and 2011, St. Martha paid no principal on the loan, and the amount of unpaid interest climbed to $202,929 from $160,985.
St. Martha, which was founded in 1966, was also far behind in its assessments, insurance bills, and pension payments. Those debts were $2.1 million on June 30, 2011.
The Rev. Alexander Masluk, pastor at St. Martha, said in an interview this month that parish debt “is not growing at the same rate it was. We’re on a five-year plan that we put in a year ago to stop the bleeding.”
It is rare to get this kind of detailed information at the parish level but it should be made public. It would be good to see for all the parishes involved in closings or mergers. If small self sufficient parishes in the city are being closed to pay the bills of parishes in the suburbs, they should know the truth.
It just might be Peter Borre. He is our canon law consultant working with our Italian lawyers to appeal the decision in Rome to close St. Joachim Roman Catholic Church here in Frankford. Along with Mater Dolorosa, these two Churches no longer serve the Frankford community. Their loss has touched not only us but our community as well.
It has been my pleasure to talk with Peter on the phone. He is caring, insightful and tireless in his efforts on behalf of those he tries to help. I’m glad he’s on our side. Here is an article from last year’s Daily News about Peter’s work and those he is helping. Titled, “National Advocate Could Be Local Parishes’ White Knight”, foreshadowed many of the current events happening in the Archdiocese.
One of the Vatican’s top priorities is the “re-evangelization” of church members who have “drifted away,” he said, but the Archdiocese “is going in the wrong direction.
You gotta like this guy!
Catholics lost both churches in Frankford on June 30th as a result of the Archdiocese decision to close Mater Dolorosa and St. Joachim. The reasons given for closing both churches are feeble at best and false at worst.
You might take a look at the other 30 plus churches in Frankford that have remained open. They are large, small and everything in between. I took a tour this past Sunday to take some pictures. They are active and looks like they will remain so. And still the Archdiocese of Philadelphia walks away from Frankford.
Today we received the acknowledgement from the Apostolic Nunciature that our “recourse for St. Joachim’s Parish in Philadelphia has been forwarded through the diplomatic pouch to the Congreation for Clergy”. You really have to love the intrigue of this!
What we don’t appreciate, quite frankly, is that your voice and my voice were not involved in the Parish Pastoral Process. I appreciate that the hierarchy was involved, that our Pastors along with three representatives were involved but, and we must make it clear in the case of St. Joachim, “interested parishioners” did not receive information about this process along with the rest of the parishioners. We truly believed in this process and it turns out our faith was truly misguided.
What makes an “interested parishioner”? Was this term used because you didn’t want to tell all of us what was going on – which took us 30 days to find out that our Pastors and representatives believed that St. Joachim parishioners and Mater Dolorosa parishioners had irreconciliable differences and would not, could not find a better solution than shuttering two viable Churces? Did anyone question that 4 people may not have been fully representative of 200-300 others in the parish? Hand picking representatives doesn’t lead to a diversity of thought but commonality of beliefs. This is the same idea that my husband and I couldn’t work as caring members of the Transition Team because of our concerns about how this process was handled and the subsequent decisions made. (For the record, we still received information and shared it with our parishioners. It’s not hard. Try it.) Who was really listening? Was this process just “lip service”? Did this give you another out to blame us for your flawed process? Did you have to be selected to be an “interested parishioner”? Each of us received a letter telling us our Churches were closing. Each of us received a letter welcoming us to the “new” old Holy Innocents. Why did each of us not receive a letter informing us of the status of this process and it’s progress. It appears that to do that would have been troublesome and opened up debate. Real debate that all “interested parishioners” could have participated in. Imagine having a discussion on the future vitality of the faith in Frankford BEFORE closing two viable Churches? Well, surely we qualify as “interested parishioners” now!
We would hope and pray that as this process moves forward these same mistakes and judgements are not repeated. We will be watching closely and offering other parishes the benefits of our woeful experience with this process to safeguard their Church from those more interested in their “process” than “parishioners”.