Over the past week, I’ve received hundreds of emails about the report of our Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education. The report calls for the closing or merger of dozens of our archdiocesan schools. Philadelphia has a long and venerable Catholic school tradition. So it’s no surprise that, while quite a few emails have expressed support, many more have been filled with confusion, anger and grief. This is natural. In fact, it would be abnormal and very troubling if people didn’t vent their feelings on a matter so close to the heart of Philadelphia Catholics.
But as tempers begin to cool, people read the report more closely, and schools consider appealing the Commission’s recommendations, we should keep a few basic facts in mind.
First, the Blue Ribbon Commission report is not finally about “closing schools.” It’s about putting Catholic education on a firm footing for the first time in decades. We tend to avoid this unpleasant work for understandable reasons: It can’t be done without suffering, and nobody wants to be the cause of other good people’s pain. But the work needs to be done. It can’t be delayed. Commission members have served all of us well by speaking truthfully – and offering genuine hope for the future — about enrollment and financial realities nobody wants to face.
The resource challenges we face in 2012 are much harsher than 40 or 50 years ago when many of us attended Catholic school. 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 resources wisely, 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.
Catholic schools are worth fighting for because they do an extraordinary job of educating young people. We need to ensure that our schools are vigorously Catholic; academically excellent; and serve our people for decades to come. But we need to do it wisely and creatively, enlisting all the outside help we can. The Blue Ribbon Commission report is a vital step toward a strategic renewal of Catholic education in the archdiocese – which is why it’s a step forward.
Second, I’m very aware of the burdens many families and teachers will face because of the Commission’s recommendations. This was the hardest part of the Commission’s deliberations, especially since every Commission member has a long track record of service to the Church and a personal love for Catholic schools. I want to assure our people that the archdiocese will make every reasonable effort to place students and teachers in new positions and to assist those teachers who will lose their employment. No one will be ignored.
Third, one of the bright spots of a difficult week has been the number of business leaders and elected officials who have approached me privately to voice their support for Catholic schools and offer their help going forward. So maybe this is a moment when we can start imagining and doing the future differently. It’s useful to wonder how many of our schools might have been saved if, over the last decade, Catholics had fought for vouchers as loudly and vigorously as they now grieve about school closings. Some Catholics – too many – seem to find it easier to criticize their own leaders than to face the fact that they’re discriminated against every day of the year. They pay once for public schools; then they pay again for the Catholic schools they rightly hold in such esteem.
Something’s wrong with that equation. It’s important for Catholics to hold the leadership of their Church accountable. No bishop or pastor should fear that. But Catholics should hold public leaders – beginning with our elected officials in Harrisburg – to an equally demanding standard. School choice may not answer every financial challenge in Catholic education; but vouchers would make a decisive difference. They’d help our schools enormously. To put it simply: Vouchers are a matter of parental rights and basic justice.
Fourth and finally, in the weeks ahead, as emotions subside, let’s remember that all of us have the duty to treat each other with charity and civility in Jesus Christ. The Blue Ribbon Commission members who worked so selflessly on the report, along with many members of our archdiocesan staff, did their service with extraordinary dedication, integrity and concern for the needs of our people. They deserve our thanks and respect. They do not deserve the bitter – and unjust – criticism some parents and students have shown them.
Catholic schools exist, first and foremost, to form believing Catholic Christians; people of the Gospel; people of justice, mercy and charity. If they produce something less, then we need to ask ourselves whether they deserve to survive.
(Help make school choice a reality in Pennsylvania. Visit the web site of the Pennsylvanis Catholic conference and become involved in the effort.)
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Dear Bishop Chaput: In your meeting with your fellow bishops could you
emphasize that the catholic laity are becoming ever more contemptuous of ther pronouncements of American bishops, which they see
as the spouting of old men, consumed with the desire to “put women in
I refer to the decision to ask American nuns to “toe the
line” and put pronoucements of the biships on contraception ahead of the nuns work for social justice. Indeed!!! Bishop don’t you realize, that
unlike most bishops, our wonderful nun are RESPECTED? We see then out in the real world, teaching, healing and feeding the poor.
In my view, the problem is not Vatican II starting in the years around 1963 but the lunge toward the Republican Party starting around 1980. We have had over 30 years of conservative Church leadership which has virtually wiped out the Catholic Church in America. What we despirately need is another Blessed Pope John XXIII and more Bishops who are committed to Rarum Novarum rather than Carl Rove.
January 14, 2012 The Archdiocese of Philadelphia waited until last month to tell law enforcement about priests caught with child pornography despite knowing years ago about their “deviant and possibly illegal activities. This just another slap in the face to all parishioners supporting the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Maybe this hand picked Commission to closed schools and save money for the diocese is just another underhanded way to build a fund for future payouts and defense of the priests accused of abuse. I wish the Archdiocese could be honest with their parishioners. I think we need an audit of the Archdiocese finances for all to see.
As tears stream down my face, it is with great apprecition and understanding how difficult this is for every one. Dear Archbishop, I know our dear Lord’s heart has tears as well, for all of us, and the less people learning His loving ways.
We are Catholics, we love thy neighbor, the news is devestating, but I pray and believe in miracles.
Dear Heavenly Father, please intervene, and make it no longer necessary to close anymore Catholic Schools or churches. All praise and honour to you Holy Father, and let thy will be done. Amen
I truly know how difficult this is for everyone, and no one should be critized.
It is our responsibility, to show our Lord’s loving ways, by setting an example.
All our in my prayers.
God Bless and may he continue to watch over all of us.
Proud graduate of St. Huberts High School
My daughter attendes West Catholic High. There are no other catholic high schools in the area. I am a product of public school and wanted something different for my child. I am so sickened by West closing. Where are we supposed to send our children. West Philadelphia needs a catholic school.
As an outsider and a native of the Archdiocese of Chicago, it is sad to hear the closing of schools and/or churches. My own high school was closed in 1999 after a hundred years of providing Catholic education. The Archbishop seems to think everything will be fine once emotions cool down. The beloved Cardinal Bernardin had to do a similiar thing back in the late 80s, early 90s with closing schools. People were in an uproar, and rightfully so. Years later, the Archdiocesan schools are thriving. It does sound as if the Archbishop inherited some problems and is trying to resolve the financial concerns before it snowballs into a large problem. The other side of this is that we all must be stewards of our churches and schools. It is not solely the responsibility of the priests and bishops. It is our right as laity to be involved and answer the call.
I am from the garden state. I have taught in Catholic Schools for over thirty years and left a legal career to do so. I believe in Catholic Education with my whole, heart and soul. I believe that we need to remove our children from the secular/atheist culture and raise them within a Catholic Family and a Catholic village. The parish provides the “village” where Jesus Christ is truly present and the Catholic School is a vital part of that village.
Archbishop Chaput has been sent to you as an amazing gift. I have followed Archbishop Chaput for quite sometime. His record in Denver, Colorado proves his leadership and holiness to me. The growth of the Catholic Leadership in Denver presents to us the hope of the Catholic Church in the United States and maybe the hope of the entire Western Church. It offers us the hope of the New Evangelization. Take a Look at Denver! Visit Denver. The seminaries are full. Focus, Augustine Institute,
Endow and the Archbishop’s emphasis on Hispanic ministry is just a few amazing things that the Holy Sprit has provided under his watch. In my estimation you have a True Shepherd and a living saint. You are truly blessed and you should open your eyes to see who you have leading you. He has taken bold steps at the advice of the commission to renew the footing of Catholic Education in the face of many trials. He has opened an appeal process and will take great care to minimize the suffering. Open your eyes Philadelphia. Amidst the pain there is a beautiful hope rising. You have a true shepherd who loves the Lord and His Church and each of you. He is trying his best to lead you to the future. He will lead you there safely if you follow and help. Ask the people of Denver who miss him terribly.
Our Church is being tested like never before. We are being attacked from within and without. We are in desperate need of purification. We all need to take a deep breath, pray and ask the Lord how we can help! Then we need to roll up our sleeves and help! First by changing ourselves. By being more Christ like with our words and actions in the midst of this crisis. The Lord died and rose for each one of us. Catholic Schools were built by generations who truly believed this! Do we? Is the Lord Jesus Christ driving our words and actions in relation to this crisis? Are we just thinking of ourselves? Our memories? Are we asking ourselves what does the Lord want? All of us are being asked to pick up the cross behind the Lord and help. I know that is what your Archbishop Believes. He not only believes it..He lives it! He leads by example. He left the most alive Diocese in the Country to lead you to the future. Help him! Because together you will become a shining example for the nation and the world! You will show all of us how to rise from the ashes and humbly rebuild with the grace of God!! I believe Philadelphia is being called to greatness once again! Answer the call! I am praying for all of you!
Thank you for your message and prayers. Archbishop Chaput is a blessing for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. May God continue to bless him with wisdom. Catholic schools should exist for catholic belief. Otherwise, there is no need for their existence.
Born and raised and Archdiocesan Catholic (St. Joes Collingdale) here is how I see it: For the fatherless, Daddy is home! For the lost sheep, the Shepherd has arrived! For the Prodigals, your father is desiring with all is heart to welcome you back! Does Philly remember what it is like to have a father who stands up for what is right even when it hurts? A father that does not tolerate evil things in the home? A father that does not just sit back and let anything go? Does Philly remember a time when dads made hard decisions for his family knowing that despite suffering caused by the decision it was BEST for the family? We are known for being tough, but as my mother always told me, “There is always someone bigger and badder than you!” Chaput has us beat in toughness I think. He is not afraid to be uncomfortable for what is truly good. He is not afraid to say the truth “Catholic schools exist, first and foremost, to form believing Catholic Christians.” He is not afraid to take on the plague of apathy in the Archdiocese regarding the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith. We haven’t been practicing our faith (I know there are some exceptions but the overwhelming majority of Catholics in Philly don’t practice their faith). Honestly, is your Catholic faith, your relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ, number one in your life? Does He come first? Do you give your time, talent, and treasure to your parish family regularly? Heck, do you even attend Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation? According to statistics you probably don’t! If your faith life is not your first priority, and is just another compartment of your life, than why are you surprised at the closings? Did you really think that the few 70 year olds who actually attend Mass regularly would sustain for you, Catholic education and healthy parish life? Do you take 10% or anything close to that right off the top of your paycheck and give it to your parish? No? Oh I see you don’t trust how it would be handled, okay then how much time are you volunteering with your parish? Are you a chaperone for youth events regularly? Maybe if you were some of the abuses could have been avoided. Most Philly Catholics have settled for a this-world way of life, but through your baptism you belong to the Kingdom of God. The King, Jesus Christ Himself, says of the apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). Chaput is a successor of one of these Apostles! He holds the office of an Apostle! Submit (that means literally “to support the mission of” from the Latin submissio)to your Shepherd! This is submitting to Christ. Just before this in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household” (Mt 10:34-36). Pick a side Philly! If you need to fight, then fight, but fight apathy! Fight compartmentalizing your faith! Fight the tendency of the world to minimize and ridicule the Truth of Christianity! Fight for that Pearl of Great Price! Christ’s side is the winning side. Chaput’s side is Christ’s side. Cooperate with him and you win.
YOUR LIFE is YOUR CATHOLIC FAITH! Get it back by rededicating your whole self to Christ through His Church! This means He is first, not just another thing. He is first, even in your schools (however many remain), even at your jobs, even at your sporting events, even in your homes, even in your bedrooms….He is first, He is GOD!
So well said; apathy truly is the real killer here. But I must also say, Catholic High School is not the answer, at least not from what I have witnessed.
I recently had the opportunity to work in a Catholic high school and was quite appalled by what I observed. The prayers come over the public address system and the students go right on talking and carrying on as if nothing were being said. The majority of the students listen only to secular music and can tell you all about the latest sitcoms and reality TV shows, they have seen all the latest R-rated films and they curse like drunken sailors. Couples kiss and hug in the hall, theft of one sort or another happened almost every day and cheating (in the minds of the students I spoke with) is no big deal.
Most have no real relationship with Christ. I see them on Sunday morning at church…on their cell phones, with ear buds connected to the latest music gadget in their pockets, sleeping, anything but following along and participating in the saying of the prayers and responses, very few sing and yet they all jump up and go to the communion rail. Confessions, nobody does that anymore.
I went to a fundraiser where beer and wine was in abundance, cussing was heard everywhere, God and Christ were damned all evening, the music from the band was full of sexual connotations.
Sit at a football game and amongst the students’ parents and you will hear God’s name and that of his son, Jesus Christ all evening, but in disgust, not prayer.
Apathy among the adults combined with a society bent on filling the minds of our children with anything, but Biblical Christianity, is the problem.
The Bishop has a job to protect the flock, that means he needs to tend to the finances and be a good steward for all the people. It would seem, he is making decisions based on the documented facts and figures compiled by a trusted group of Catholic financial advisors.
Consolidation will hopefully be not only a sound financial move, but also be a way to thresh out the chaf and build upon a solid, committed group of core believers. Read Revelations 3:1-6(NASB)
1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, [a]but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 So remember [b]what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 But you have a few [c]people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
When a Shepard places more value in his land then he places in his flock, wolves become well fed.
Archbishop, I am a 77 your old cradle Catholic who is severely frustrated in my search for Jesus’ message in the 21st century. I did believe the church tried to teach Jesus’ love until the priest cover-up by the magisterial church was announced to the world in America, Canada, Ireland, Europe, and other places still to be heard from.
I realize you have just replaced your predecessors in Philadelphia – who participated in the evil and sinful cover-up – but be careful and do not follow their behavior and violated your righteous mind.
My wife and I raised five children and two of them worked in our parish rectory in the late seventies. Living in Philly I was vigilant about my children’s safety and believed they were safe at home or the rectory. After the grand jury report I learned that our pastor and an assistant were sexually abusing children at the time my children were working at the rectory. As their father I needed to know any dangers my children faced but the church clergy were full of secrecy, fear of scandal and failed me their father.
My frustration now is the lack of transparency over the closing of schools. It appears the focus only concentrates on school attendance as the primary reason – parishioner’s ability to pay tuitions and fallen away Catholics are implied. The church’s undisclosed costs such as money used to gain silence from suffering parishioners whose children were abused, and costly attorney fees must be included I believe.
This is my perspective. Please provide any corrections.
Your Excellency, with all due respect, we have been closing schools, reshuffling children and teachers, having independent commissions, and getting various and sundry ‘experts’ to make recommendations on what should be done for over 20 years. It isn’t working. The schools are no better off than they were when these processes began to be identified as necessary to save them.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to look at what the schools were doing 30+ years ago when they were full. Daily mass, uniforms (real ones not polo-shirts), religious teachers, and a real, pervading, sense that ‘education is about formation’ are all keys to this. Returning the Church as the center of the life of any given group of Catholics is critical.
People may reject the idea of making Catholic schools, Catholic again, as too old fashioned and say ‘we can’t go back to a world (i.e.culture) that is gone’. The truth is, the only hope we as Catholics have is to make an attempt to restore our culture and the only means we have to do it, is through our schools.
There are children all over the world who learn far more with far less material than we have, I cannot accept money as a reason for any of this.
Take seriously the notion that your flock will be damaged, again, by consolidations and school closing and that some day, this damage will be irreparable, if it isn’t already.