Saturday, January 7, 2012

Catholic schools stunner: The day after

It’s the day after the announcement of the merger of 85 Catholic parochial schools and closure of four high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The scope of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report received Jan. 6 by Archbishop Charles Chaput was, as Lou Baldwin writes on, “stunning.”

This day after has seen candlelight vigils to explain the plans and complain about them, and as always in a Catholic community, to pray about them.

Reactions up to this point have ranged from expressions of love for the schools to be closed, bewilderment of the choices to merge some schools with others, and even wildly mistaken impressions that the parishes themselves, not just the schools, were closing. (They aren’t.)

Today might also be the day when folks are taking time to actually read the report. That would go a long way toward clearing up confusion and begin moving forward into the new day that surely must come.

Because the current situation can’t continue. One school community or another might be sad at the loss of their parish school or high school, but no one can argue that a sweeping reorganization such as this was not long overdue.

Pastors knew it, parish finance councils knew it, principals and home and school associations knew it. Maybe they all hoped the changes would sweep up someone else’s school.

Nevertheless, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report clearly painted the dire financial picture of a system that cannot be sustained as current.

This is the plan going forward. Implementing it will not be easy, yet it must be done quickly. Recommended names of consolidated schools must be submitted in March, along with school tours for prospective students. School administrators and faculties will need to be well in place by summer so the new term can begin smoothly in September.

As the report details, besides the mergers and closures are solid recommendations to solidify and stabilize Catholic education with new structures of governance for the schools and plans to keep them academically excellent. Along with these proposals are calls for a renewed commitment on the parish level for Parish Religious Education Programs (aka CCD, to another generation) and special education schools.

So to anyone who cares about Catholic education (schools, PREP and special education) and that should be everyone, the report should be on the weekend’s reading list. Emotions at this time are natural. But the path forward will be lit with the light of truth. It should not be pounded out by
people stamping their feet in anger but by working together for the common good of education in the Church.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In a new year, a new message from the Archbishop

It’s January 5, and still not too late to wish someone a happy new year. The day also is the Catholic Church’s feast day for St. John Neumann, the saintly eighth bishop of Philadelphia.

The current shepherd of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput (at right he visits a Philadelphia prison Dec. 22; see more photos), marks the occasion to launch a new initiative in the new year: a new weekly message to Catholics and all visitors to

Archbishop Chaput takes the occasion to prepare people for what’s coming tomorrow. Jan. 6 will see the unveiling of the report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education. A year in the making, the report is said to envision a seismic shift in how Catholic education – not just Catholic schools but parish religious education and special education too – is delivered in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Much of the media attention will likely go toward stating the number of Catholic parochial grade school and archdiocesan high schools set to close or consolidate. But the report will do more than list the names of buildings. It is expected to lay out a vision of a smaller yet stronger system of schools that is sustainable far into the future.

Archbishop Chaput lays out the challenges ahead for Catholic education and for other issues the Church in Philadelphia is facing, including, he writes, “legal, financial, and above all, pastoral” issues.

These issues spring from a spiritual crisis today today, which the archbishop faces squarely in his message. Spirits must be rejuvenated, and a spiritual fire rekindled.

“The resource and organizational issues always come from some deeper spiritual problem: a lack of zeal, a lukewarm faith, an eagerness to fit in, a hunger for influence and a comfortable life,” he wrote. “These shadows live in all of us to one degree or another, including those of us in ministry.

The more we let them draw us away from loving Jesus Christ and doing the work of discipleship, the weaker and more dishonest our common life as believers becomes. The ‘habit’ of being Catholic is not enough. It’s not even close to enough. There needs to be a fire for being Catholic in our hearts.”

The Archbishop points back to St. John Neumann, who was first a missionary priest before he was the bishop who came to be so strongly identified with Catholic education.

“John Neumann was a missionary first. Everything else was second. You and I are called to exactly the same vocation. Let’s begin that work today. Difficulties can be overcome. Problems can be solved. We can renew our Church and make Catholic education grow and thrive again. But we need two things to do it – the grace of God, and hearts truly on fire for Jesus Christ. The rest will follow.”

Read the message from Archbishop Chaput at

Friday, February 18, 2011

What a week for Catholic Press Month

At Catholic newspapers in the United States such as the Catholic Standard & Times, February is Catholic Press Month. It’s a time when Catholic newspapers take stock of their value to society.

Many fewer Catholics are reading the paper than in decades past. But they are reading Catholic news.

Philadelphia became ground zero for the major news story of the past week: current and former priests plus a lay teacher were indicted and arrested in connection with a city grand jury report regarding clergy sexual abuse of minors.

The grand jury released its report on Thursday, Feb. 10. Since the CS&T’s deadline for publishing on Thursday is Tuesday evening, our Feb. 10 issue didn’t have the news.

But our web site had full coverage of the district attorney’s press conference and the early response by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

For each of the first two days of coverage almost a thousand visitors hit our web site, more than double the average number for a typical day. Most of them found our coverage through Twitter and Facebook posts and by logging in directly to our site, (yes we know it’s a clunky URL; we’re working on that).

Today we posted a follow-up story , and the traffic has been equally high.

People wanted to read about this important Catholic news, and they weren’t satisfied with the secular coverage.

They sought out the Catholic perspective on news from a source they have trusted for many years. Now they can find us online and even on their mobile phone: tap us on your cell at

Overall newspaper circulation continues to dwindle and the Catholic press is not immune. But traffic to Catholic news web sites continues to rise. That is true for the Catholic Standard and Times.

It’s also true that this newspaper’s mission to inform, educate and inspire (a three-word tag coined by our former editor, Cardinal John Foley) is as vital today as it was 116 years ago at our founding.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A harsh, revealing light on abortion

This week Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams rode to the rescue to human decency and defense of the law. Excellent work by him, his staff and the grand jury's voluminous report alleging murder, conspiracy and a laundry list of crimes coming out of a West Philadelphia abortion clinic.

In case you missed the story, it's an informative if unsettling read.

That Philadelphia and Pennsylvania health and licensing officials turned a blind eye to what can only be termed a chamber of horrors at the Women's Medical Society is tragic enough. If this isn't the agencies' unspoken policy of "don't look and don't touch" an abortion facility, then it has to be gross negligence on the part of agency staff.

Either way, I suspect that this part of the story is only just beginning.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia in its statement called the goings on at the clinic "abhorrent and intrinsically evil."

It also said: "The report's use of the language of 'infants and babies' for the unborn and the charges of murder underscore our conviction that every child in the womb is created in the image and likeness of God."

That's the real eye-opener in this case: murder charges on the clinic's only licensed physician, Kermit B. Gosnell, extend to the killing of children at an abortion clinic.

That is what happens with an abortion -- a child dies. Of course, it is illegal to abort a child after a certain point of gestation, thanks to Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act. But at any stage, it is killing an innocent human life. No matter what one chooses to call that life (baby, fetus, clump of tissue).

The heinous part of this story is that the babies were delivered alive then killed. But if they were several weeks earlier in their term and killed by chemical or mechanical means, the act would be legal.

This story shines a bright and inescapable light on abortion: the practice, legal or not, destroys a living human child.

The case against this particular abortion doctor and his clinic indicts the abortion industry and its legal underpinnings. It is an industry built on the death of the human family's most innocent and needing of protection, our children.

The other victims are the women who feel compelled to seek an abortion. They are particularly vulnerable and need social support and the care of medical professionals. No one deserves to be exploited as the women appear to have been in this case.

They deserve the support of a close-knit community and, if they become pregnant, a quantum leap in safe, professional prenatal medical care and postnatal professional services, including adoption services.

The quandary over abortion in this country has to resolve those two points: preventing the death through abortion of children at any stage of gestation, and supporting the women who experience an unexpected preganancy.

Resolving those goals remains the work of millions of committed people in this country who never again want to witness murdered children and maimed women as a result of abortion, legal or not.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sign points to Christmas in Philadelphia

Big news often springs from the humblest of beginnings. Take the story on the “little Christmas Village that could,” which has blanketed the region's media and gone national.

You couldn’t have missed it in daily newspapers, radio and television stations but here’s a recap: A plaza of Philadelphia City Hall hosted a nice conglomeration of about 50 kiosks selling arts and crafts Christmas items. It had a tall archway sign above it appropriately stating “Christmas Village.”

Someone got upset about the word Christmas (they had nothing better to do?), complained to the city and like that, down came Christmas from the sign.

Then the media glare went megawatt and the whole sign was taken down. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia voiced its disappointment and pointed out the lack of common sense to removing Christmas from an obviously Christmas themed-display.

Getting burned around the edges by all this heat, the city, thanks to Mayor Nutter, is bringing Christmas and its sign back.

Everyone presumably is back into the joyful Christmas spirit. Hopefully the craft items are selling as briskly. The controversy has got to be a marketing boon: "Is Christmas OK in Philadelphia? Of course! Come on by (buy)!"

The Catholic Standard and Times made its own contribution to the reason this little story became as big as it did. To say it went viral, as Mayor Nutter said, is to acknowledge how powerful the Internet is in disseminating information widely and quickly, and helping people respond in kind.

The Archdiocese’s strongly worded statement was issued Wednesday morning, the day after our weekly paper goes to press. So our story on the matter included the statement that also was used in radio and TV news reports that day, and in other newspapers the following day.

We’ve updated the story today and pulled together pertinent links, including the archdiocesan statement.

Just goes to show, when you mess with Christmas, you provoke a response. In this case, the city and the vendor did the right thing. In fact they recognize what always should have been acknowledged and protected: the word Christmas is not an epithet designed to offend but a fact of culture and, yes, religion.

Religion is present in society because religion is an integral part of human culture, indeed the human spirit. It is as wrong to remove religious images from public observation as it is to whitewash from society words with religious meaning.

If people are offended by such words as menorah, Judaism, Allah, mosque, Christ, Catholic or Christmas, then the fault lies not in the culture or the government. For such people, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies in themselves.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A smile for your weekend

Here’s a photo we just received from a Halloween parade today at the preschool at Casa del Carmen Family Service Center. It’s an agency in North Philadelphia operated by Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

We’re considering it for the front page of our Nov. 4 issue. What do you think – should we use it for the cover? Let me know!

By my count there are five Spidermen and five princesses, plus other characters, among the little boys and girls from every ethnic background. All getting along, having fun and learning in a Catholic environment. If that doesn’t make you smile, consider one little super girl on the left. She is super – she’s wearing the uniform! And so are all the kids, visitors seeking aid and the staff and volunteers at Casa.

As the Church approaches All Saints Day on Monday, let’s remember the saints around us. They’re in North Philly, around the corner from you, and even in your home.

All saints, all holy men and women, pray for us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cardinal Rigali: 'We should be thinking about peace'

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave an interview Sept. 10 with Fox29 TV reporter Sean Tobin, at which the Catholic Standard and Times was present. The Cardinal responded to questions about a controversial Florida pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on Sept. 11. The pastor later cancelled the event amid worldwide condemnation.

Watch the video of the interview in three parts on the Catholic Standard and Times' You Tube channel.

The planned Quran burning was “a reprehensible thing,” Cardinal Rigali said. “This is totally unjustified from every standpoint. Acts of violence and extremism trigger other acts. They are contrary to human dignity, contrary to the way we are supposed to act as human beings. This is disrespectful of religious values of people who are our brothers and sisters. There is no justification for it.

“When any type of human rights are not respected then the results are disastrous. We can’t expect to have a world of peace and do things that are contrary to the rights of human beings.”

“This is completely wrong (and) very disappointing,” he continued. “It violates Christian teaching and is the antithesis of what Christianity is all about. Christianity does not involve hatred, or is disrespectful of human beings, disrespectful of human values, or stir up anger and revenge.”

Instead of this “very irresponsible act,” he said, “We should be thinking about peace. How is peace produced? It is produced by kindness, by love, by working together. It’s produced by prayer.”

Paraphrasing Pope John Paul II, with whom he worked closely at the Vatican for many years, Cardinal Rigali recalled the late pope’s words on the topic, themselves echoing his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.

“If you want peace, work for justice,” Cardinal Rigali said. “If you want justice, defend life. Defend the values that are part of Christianity.”

He continued, “We should help Sudan, where the people have suffered so much. We have a great challenge in Pakistan,” he said, referring to the estimated 17 million people affected by recent flooding in the country.

“These are the values of Christianity,” he said. “This is Christianity, and anything that masquerades as Christianity should be rejected as such.

“What (the Florida pastor) proposes to do has nothing to do with Christianity and Christianity repudiates it. What he is doing is totally contrary to Christian doctrine, to the message of Christ, to the law of love, to respect for human beings and the value of each human person, and the fact that human beings have religious rights.”