The Archdiocese of Philadelphia faces “very serious” 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 God’s word, the archbishop’s Dec. 8 pastoral letter spoke frankly about the conditions his archdiocese faces.
“Complacency 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.
“The 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 God’s word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.”
In the three months since his installation, the archbishop said, he has been struck by the “good will in our people” and the fidelity of the archdiocese’s priests.
He praised the archdiocese’s deep roots and “extraordinary legacy” of saints and public witness. These were built by the faith of generations of Catholic families, but all of these depend on “our willingness to sustain them by our actions in the present.”
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 Christians’ mission as believers in Jesus Christ.
The financial and organizational issues are “not simply business issues” but are at the heart of the archdiocese’s ability to carry out Catholic ministries.
“The archdiocese remains strongly committed to the work of Catholic education. But that mission is badly served by trying to sustain unsustainable schools,” he said.
In January the Blue Ribbon Commission will provide the archbishop its recommendations on Catholic education. It will likely counsel that “some, and perhaps many” 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 “careful scrutiny” be applied to every aspect of the Catholic Church’s common life, including the number and location of parishes and archdiocesan operational budgets.
“This honest scrutiny can be painful, because real change is rarely easy; but it also restores life and health, and serves the work of God’s people. We cannot call ourselves good stewards if we do otherwise.”
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 archdiocese’s secretary of clergy under Cardinal Rigali’s 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 Chaput’s letter spoke of a “grave and continuing obligation” 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 “rapid resolution” 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.
“The hard truth is that many innocent priests have borne the brunt of the Church’s public humiliation and our people’s 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.”
Archbishop Chaput said his words are a plea “to take our baptism seriously” and to renew the local Church with “Christian charity, justice and zeal.”
God “can certainly use us to renew and advance the work of His Church – and he will.”
He closed his pastoral letter with a request for prayers, citing Jesus’ exhortation “Do not be afraid.”