.- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia faces âvery seriousâ financial and organizational issues which mean some of its schools must close or combine, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has said in a new pastoral letter. He also warns of unavoidable continued fallout from the court cases tied to sexual abuse by priests.
Invoking Advent as a time of self-examination in the light of Godâs word, the archbishopâs Dec. 8 pastoral letter spoke frankly about the conditions his archdiocese faces.
âComplacency is the enemy of faith. To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local Church, events in the coming year will burn them out.
âThe process will be painful. But going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the Church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of Godâs word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.â
In the three months since his installation, the archbishop said, he has been struck by the âgood will in our peopleâ and the fidelity of the archdioceseâs priests.
He praised the archdioceseâs deep roots and âextraordinary legacyâ of saints and public witness. These were built by the faith of generations of Catholic families, but all of these depend on âour willingness to sustain them by our actions in the present.â
He also touched on the topic of Church resources, which he said do not belong to the bishops or the clergy, but to the entire Catholic people in stewardship to carry out Christiansâ mission as believers in Jesus Christ.
The financial and organizational issues are ânot simply business issuesâ but are at the heart of the archdioceseâs ability to carry out Catholic ministries.
âThe archdiocese remains strongly committed to the work of Catholic education. But that mission is badly served by trying to sustain unsustainable schools,â he said.
In January the Blue Ribbon Commission will provide the archbishop its recommendations on Catholic education. It will likely counsel that âsome, and perhaps manyâ schools must close or combine.
There are 163 parochial elementary schools and early child programs in the archdiocese as well as 17 archdiocesan high schools.
Archbishop Chaput urged that âcareful scrutinyâ be applied to every aspect of the Catholic Churchâs common life, including the number and location of parishes and archdiocesan operational budgets.
âThis honest scrutiny can be painful, because real change is rarely easy; but it also restores life and health, and serves the work of Godâs people. We cannot call ourselves good stewards if we do otherwise.â
Several clergy in the archdiocese presently face sex abuse-related charges.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, the previous Archbishop of Philadelphia, in March placed 21 priests on administrative leave following a grand jury report which said that there were credible abuse allegations against them.
Msgr. William Lynn, the archdioceseâs secretary of clergy under Cardinal Rigaliâs predecessor Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, faces charges of conspiracy and child endangerment for allegedly transferring sexually abusive priests to new parishes.
He will go on trial in March, along with two priests, an ex-priest, and a former Catholic school teacher charged with raping boys, the Associated Press reports.
Archbishop Chaputâs letter spoke of a âgrave and continuing obligationâ to help clergy sex abuse victims heal, to create safe church environments, and to cooperate appropriately with civil authorities in pursuing justice for both victims and the accused.
Since his arrival, he said, he has pressed for a ârapid resolutionâ of the cases of priests placed on administrative leave earlier in 2011. Those cases will be concluded in the first months of 2012.
The confidence of Catholics and the morale of priests have suffered, he added.
âThe hard truth is that many innocent priests have borne the brunt of the Churchâs public humiliation and our peopleâs anger. The harsh media environment likely to surround the criminal trial which begins next March will further burden our lay people and our clergy. But it cannot be avoided.â
Archbishop Chaput said his words are a plea âto take our baptism seriouslyâ and to renew the local Church with âChristian charity, justice and zeal.â
God âcan certainly use us to renew and advance the work of His Church â and he will.â
He closed his pastoral letter with a request for prayers, citing Jesusâ exhortation âDo not be afraid.â