Friday, April 17, 2020

Confessions in the United States During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In many dioceses across the country priests are forbidden to hear confessions, sometimes with an exception for the dying. In other dioceses priests and bishops are working hard to provide Catholics with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I get pretty annoyed when people complain that “the bishops” or “the Church” are responsible for this. I even read a tweet blaming the pope. If confession is not available in your diocese, the decision was made by one man, the bishop of your diocese, who is responsible for that decision. Other bishops are not. Most especially the bishops working to provide confessions are not responsible for the ones who forbid it.

I’ve collected tweets about the many priests and bishops working hard to provide confessions. Here are some.

Friday, March 13, 2020

My Grandparents’ Wedding

My grandparents were married in St. James church at 38th and Chestnut, in 1918, during the flu epidemic. Theaters, churches, all places where people congregated were closed for fear of spreading infection. The priest who presided at the wedding had been an Episcopal minister. Five or six converted at one time and he was one of them.

Marriages were being conducted in rectories, but the priest said it would be a shame for such a devout couple to be married in the rectory. He told my grandfather that he would marry them in the church, and would leave the side door open for them. Only the wedding party was to be there, though, just as if the wedding were being held in the rectory, and they were to tell no one that they were being married in church.

When they got there on the day of the wedding, the church was filled with people. My grandmother said she looked out, saw all the people, and was never so embarrassed in her life.

The people were there to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. They were not there for Mass. This was before Nuptial Masses were common. In those days, other than the epidemic, Catholic churches were never closed. People visited the Blessed Sacrament at all hours. This is from Christopher Morley’s essay “The Parkway, Henry Ford and Billy the Bean Man,” published in 1920 in his book Travels in Philadelphia, originally written for his column in the Public Ledger.

The great churches of the Roman communion are always an inspiration to visit. At almost all hours of the day or night you will find worshippers slipping quietly in and out, generally of the humblest classes. I slipped into the Cathedral for a few minutes and sat there watching the shimmer of color and blended shadows as the vivid sunlight streamed through the semicircular windows above the nave. The body of the church is steeped in that soft dusk described once for all as “a dim religious light,” but the great cream-colored pillars with their heavy gold ornaments lift the eyes upward to the arched ceiling with its small tablets of blue and shining knots of gold. In the dome hung a faint lilac haze of intermingled gentle hues, sifting through the ring of stained windows. The eastern window over the high altar shows one brilliant note of rich blue in the folds of the Madonna’s gown. Over the gleaming terrace of white marble steps hangs a great golden lamp with a small ruby spark glowing through the twilight. Below these steps a plainly dressed little man knelt in prayer all the time I was in the church. The air was faintly fragrant with incense, having almost the aroma of burning cedar wood. A constant patter of hushed footfalls on the marble floor was due to the entrance and exit of stealthy worshipers coming in for a few minutes of silence in the noon recess.
The next one is from 1923 and “A Shrine Amid the Skyscrapers” in Little Journeys Around Old Philadelphia, by George Barton. It’s about old St. Joseph’s church. I include Mr. Barton’s quotation from London Magazine, from the 1730s, which begins the excerpt:

“A small specimen of a notable step which the people of that profession have taken toward the propagation of Popery abroad has come to my notice, and I have it from a gentleman who has lived for many years in Pennsylvania, I confide in the truth of it. In the town of Philadelphia, in that colony, is a public Popish chapel, where that religion has free and open exercise and in all the superstitious rites of that church are as avowedly performed as those of the Church of England are in the Royal Chapel of St. James. And this chapel is not only open upon fasts and festivals, but is so all day and every day in the week, and exceedingly frequented at all hours either for private or public devotion. . . .”

It is interesting to note that old St. Joseph’s is still open “all day and every day in the week.” . . .

As the gossipy and not altogether good-natured correspondent of the London newspaper wrote nearly two hundred years ago it is frequented at “all hours” by those who wish a few minutes of solitude and prayer. The old-fashioned galleries, and the plain pulpit bespeak earlier generations, but the tranquility found there is the atmosphere that has always been characteristic of the place. The red lamp burns always before the tabernacle, and the wayfarer who enters here finds himself far removed from the noise and bustle of the modern world.

When I first heard the wedding story, the explanation was that people saw that the church was open, and they just went in. Eventually I heard a different theory, that somebody, despite the priest’s instructions, talked. Uncle Bun was suspected. However it happened, I’m pretty sure the church was full. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Diocese of Lincoln

The best pastoral planning is the rejection of everything promoted by the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. Link to Liturgy Guy

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I'm pretty sure he was a fraud. I'm more sure that people who don't have a complete grasp of what he said and what he thought shouldn't be promoting him.

As I say, I'm pretty sure he was a fraud:

Certainly there's a lot to be explained if he wasn't:
    • "According to my own principles, I cannot fight against Christianity; I can only work inside it by trying to transform and convert it. A revolutionary attitude would be much easier, and much more pleasant, but it would be suicidal. So I must go step by step, tenaciously." (Letter, Mar. 21, 1941)
    • "The more the years pass, the more I begin to think that my function is probably simply that... of John the Baptist, that is, of one who presages what is to come. Or perhaps what I am called on to do is simply to help in the birth of a new soul in that which already is." (ibid)
    • "Sometimes I am a bit afraid, when I think of the transposition to which I must submit my mind concerning the common notions of creation, inspiration, miracle, original sin, resurrection, etc., in order to be able to accept them." (Letter of Dec. 17, 1922)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Government

The central insight of public choice economics comes from the observation that when some issue in society is turned over to the government for the government to supervise, the government employees do not manage the issue for the maximum benefit of society as a whole. The concept is explained in the article Public Choice Economics in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: 

"Although most people base some of their actions on their concern for others, the dominant motive in people’s actions in the marketplace—whether they are employers, employees or consumers—is a concern for themselves. Public choice economists make the same assumption—that although people acting in the political marketplace have some concern for others, their main motive, whether they are voters, politicians, lobbyists or bureaucrats is self-interest. In James Buchanan’s words the theory 'replaces romantic and illusory notions about the workings of governments with notions that embody more skepticism.' " 

A Christian summary of the theory would be that even government employees are marked by original sin.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Big Meeting in Frankford

The parishioners of St. Joachim in Frankford are hosting a presentation from their canon law consultant to talk about the appeals process, developments with their appeal, recent developments in Rome and insights on the future of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia based on Boston’s experience.

Location: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 4442 Frankford Avenue. 
Time: Thursday October 24, 6 PM.

This would be especially important for people in a currently threatened parish. This is an opportunity to learn about the options before the bad news comes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Should Be Done? Part 4

A commenter asked a question after the "Why Does St. Joachim Have To Go?" post. I wrote an answer, but couldn't get it to appear as a reply to the comment, so I'm putting it here as a new post. Here’s the question: assuming that the archbishop has a specific goal for the number of parishes the archdiocese should have, how should we get there, given the present situation? Or, "which closed parishes should be left open, which open ones should be closed, and which consolidations should have occurred in different permutations?" I’m going to take this question to mean "What should the archbishop do right now?"

I don’t have "one simple trick that lets you undo the damage the pastoral planners have done to your diocese." And much as I love the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, if I had the simple trick the first thing I’d do is send it to Bishop Lennon in Cleveland, a diocese that the planners have done great damage to. That operation was lead by one of the leading lights of the Conference on Pastoral Planning and Council Development, who appears now to be unemployed. If the pastoral planners could do what they claim, the Diocese of Cleveland would need a pastoral planner more than any other diocese. Not only is their former pastoral planner gone, but he has been replaced by no one. They do without the expertise of a CPPCD planner, and they are better off, although the damage done by their former pastoral planners remains, and festers. I wonder if Archbishop Chaput has spoken with Bishop Lennon and has heard whatever the bishop learned from having been through the CPPCD wringer.

This question assumes that I’m right about the Philadelphia pastoral planners. If I’m right, the planners are not just wrong, they’re way wrong. My post entitled "What's Behind the School Closing Campaign?" states what I think is wrong with the planners’ goals for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, with evidence. I analyze the evidence under four categories: 1) public choice economics; 2) the planners’ ideology; 3) class antagonisms; and 4) fixation on committees. To try to summarize that very long post I conclude that 1) one of the planners’ motives is to be in charge, to boss people around, "to make a difference"; 2) the planners’ ideology is the futureChurch/"Gather Faithfully Together" religion, not the Catholicism that that the popes have taught, not the religion whose tenets are stated in the Catechism ; 3) they represent the "Belmont" group in the class war described in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart; and 4) everything they do and want to do is pushed through committees, which interferes with the archbishop’s governance of the diocese, and, in fact, any kind of individual responsibility for anything. Their plans are not just bad, they’re real bad. We could be seriously injured by what they’re up to. Cleveland has been.

So how can what they’ve already done be fixed? There’s no short cut. I think that the Archbishop should find a priest, a holy priest, a wise priest and ask him to look at what’s been done, and think about it carefully. Some faithful Catholic priest who is not part of the process should look at everything carefully and see how bad it really is. Not a committee, one man. He should tell the archbishop whether the whole pastoral planning operation is an Emperor’s new clothes kind of thing, and whether the right thing to do is to accept the bad decisions this process came to or try to fix them. There’s no magic answer. Somebody should look hard at everything and see if fixing some of it is possible. I think it will be, and I also think that if somebody had done this for the diocese of Cleveland, they’d be a lot better off now. This isn’t easy, it’s hard, but I think it should be done, in justice for the parishes that have already been dealt with, and to prevent disaster for the rest of the archdiocese.

That investigator should look at everything the planners have done and see if there are any real injustices. Many people claim to have been lied to. They should have the opportunity to explain to him why they think that. He should try to figure out if it’s true or not. If lies were told regarding the process of closing some particular parish that should go on the injustice side of the ledger.

He should also decide if there is class based discrimination of the kind that Charles Murray writes about. I think it’s likely there is and that it would indicate an injustice that ought to be fixed. The fact that Frankford can support an Episcopalian church, but not a Catholic one certainly seems odd. The way Frankford and Holy Savior were treated seems to support the hypothesis.

He should look at everything, especially those places where people are complaining the most. I think people complaining is a good mark that something may be wrong, and lack of complaint may indicate that what was done can be left alone. I think he should look at everything, though, and consult people who actually are familiar with the facts. He should look at what the author of the Philadelphia Church Project website has written, but also try to talk with him and see what he thinks beyond that. He should also talk to the pastors involved, in confidence, to see if they know more than they’re saying in public because they don’t want to hurt the archdiocese with dissention. Even if they think what I think, there’s no good that would come of them speaking in public.

Another possible source of information would be employees of the archdiocese who know what was done, but establishing a secure channel of communication for them would not be easy.

Finally, what if he decides that some real injustices have been done and some parishes ought to be re-opened, and the archbishop agrees? There shouldn’t be immediate closures to make up for them. Getting to the archbishop’s desired number, if he has one, will have to be put off for five or ten years. A parish that was wrongly spared by the planners’ incompetence shouldn’t be closed now. Keeping those open, giving them a chance to survive if they can, would be worth it. Closing a parish to make up for the resurrection of one that was wrongly closed would just cause way too much animosity.

One reason this took so long to write is that it used to be longer. I had a longer description of the Frankford situation, and some specificity about what ought to be done there, but if I’m an expert on anything it’s the planners and their ideology. I don’t have special factual expertise about Frankford, so I took it out. I just want an unbiased person to look at all the facts and evaluate them fairly.

Another reason it took so long is that I looked again at the process and the criteria they claim to use. Here are some of the criteria. They look for "Active advisory councils, with recommendations put forth by the parish based on consultation with their Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Council and Parishioners" and for "Trained, qualified and competent leaders in both paid staff and volunteer positions" and "Just compensation for employees." If they’re telling the truth, then if the pastor is not a good bureaucrat, and doesn’t do things they way they want, the way Dilbert’s boss does things, they punish the parishioners by closing the parish. And who is the "they"? Who are the actual decision makers? Well, that’s secret, too. What’s clear is that the committee that supposedly makes the decisions is too big to make any decisions. Somebody runs it, but it’s very important that we not know who. Here’s the committee: "Regional Bishop and the Dean for the area under study, Coordinator of Archdiocese Planning Initiatives, Monsignor Arthur E. Rodgers; Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Monsignor Daniel J. Kutys; Chancellor, Monsignor Gerard C. Mesure; Vicar for Clergy, Monsignor Daniel J. Sullivan; Office for Black Catholics William Bradley; Office for Catholic Education, Jacqueline Coccia; Office for Communications, Ken Gavin; Office for Cultural Diversity, Reverend A. Bruce Lewandowski; Office for Parish Services and Support, Marc Fisher; Office for Parish Services and Support, Bob Miller; Office for Stewardship and Development, Sarah Hanley; Office for Real Estate Services, Deacon Thomas Croke; Office for Secretary for Temporal Services, Jim Bock." that’s quite a bureaucratic lineup. I’m pretty sure that if the committee did any real work they wouldn’t let somebody from the Office for Communications be on it. With that list of people nominally responsible for this disaster, it’s going to be quite difficult for anybody to say that "mistakes were made" but really big mistakes were made and at sometime the archdiocese has to realize that, and the truth is, the sooner the better.

This process has done a lot of damage. The longer an honest examination is put off, the worse it will be for the archdiocese.

Anyway, I'm very grateful for the question. This is what I wanted to write in my "What Should Be Done?" series of posts and which I couldn’t quite get myself to do. I didn’t want to face how bad things were and how hard they would be to fix. Your comment made me do it. Like I said, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t wait around for this answer, but I’m glad I wrote it.