I was reading an article about the Catholic Church in Ireland and how they are struggling (Like us in Philadelphia) with the whole child-abuse scandal. Since the release of the second Grand Jury Report last year. A concern of mine, and many of our parishioners throughout all of this, was the total impact on people (psychological, spiritual, emotional, physical…) What would they do? How would they react? Would they stay? Would they leave? If they left, for how long? Had we lost them forever? If so, could you blame them?
We also asked, “What should we do? Or perhaps the better question was, “What MUST we do?” Most people in the parish stayed, and prayed, and talked, and cried, and shared and HELPED!
We’ve tried to take a leadership role here at St. Mary of the Assumption – St. Lucy in addressing this issue from several perspectives utilizing several tactics. The strength of the parish was in the response and action of our lay members and leaders.
- We discussed it at Parish Council Meetings and Staff Meetings.
- One of our parishioners spearheaded the formation of a “Working Group” to address the issue and come up with concrete action items.
- We e-mailed back and fourth.
- We held a town hall meeting. We held a SECOND town hall meeting the next evening.
- We held a follow-up THIRD town hall meeting a month later.
- We recorded all that was said and forwarded it to the Archdiocese.
- Individual parishioners and groups reached out to victims from the parish.
- We had an unprecedented, moderated conversation with one of our parishioners who had been abused – it was a special and sacred moment. This was later reported in our local archdiocesan paper, the Catholic Standard and Times
I was struck by the words of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. There’s been a lot of “stuff down there” in my own heart since this mess broke last Ash Wednesday. This is the part that struck me:
“On a deeper level, however, there is a certain ambiguity as to what “being Catholic” means in contemporary Irish society. There are multiple expressions of the claim: “I am still a Catholic, but…” Many people who no longer regularly practice will still come to Church on special occasions and on the great feasts and maintain some personal contact with the Church. In some cases people live out a sort of cultural Catholicism; in other cases what is called Catholicism is really a type of civil religion, a social spirituality without dogma, with blurred reference to a Jesus of one’s own creation.
“…the Catholic Church in Ireland must be concerned about the lack of knowledge of basic elements of the Christian faith and of the nature of the Church among Catholics. This is a situation which should be a cause of concern as it can only increase from one generation to the next. The Irish Church is extraordinarily weak in its knowledge and use of the scriptures. In other cases there remain among those who have drifted from Church life vestiges of faith and of affection for the Church. The importance of these signs should not be underestimated. But such vestiges will never flourish again without a genuine programme of new evangelization.”
I was recently speaking with a cousin in Texas. There the Catholic Church is absolutely thriving. I was telling her about what was happening in Philly:
- The Grand Jury – Child Abuse Trial starting soon.
- 21 priests still on administrative leave.
- Over 40 grade- and high school schools closed/merged/consolidated.
- A former Chief Financial Officer arrested for embezzlement.
- Another priest recently identified for questionable behavior.
- Numerous parish consolidations/mergers/closings pending.
How do I, as a priest, “do” the New Evangelization in this midst of this mess?
Here in Philadelphia we see young professionals taking the initiative and organizing themselves.
We see these same young people becoming active in the neighborhood in the greatest of the Roman Catholic social justice tradition (Check out the video from ABC-Channel 6).
If you look at my “Favorite Web Sites” you will see new and exciting “Catholic Organizations and Initiatives.”
I remember that during the 70’s and 80’s, people were looking around and trying to figure out what to do after Vatican II. Some things were totally unexpected, unplanned and spontaneous like Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In other cases, many people took the initiative and what happened were things like Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Pre-Cana programs, retreat programs like Search, Kairos and Encounter. Might the Lord be moving today with something totally new to begin to “heal the open wounds” and kick-start the “New Evangelization?”
An archdiocesan employee recently said to me, “We’re simply in the midst of a winter. And it’s been a LONG one. Spring is coming.”
He might have something there.