Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Did the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Launch the School Closing Campaign?

The employees of the archdiocese who are behind this campaign do not believe that they are failing at running a Catholic school system. They think they are succeeding in achieving goals of their own. There's a short explanation of what's going on here. A much longer discussion of what they are up to, with supporting evidence, here.

(Since this post explains what the blog is about, I keep it permanently at the top.)


It is, of course, true that things are going on in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I hope to start writing about those developments in the near future. But in the meantime here is an excellent discussion of the rule of the planners in Boston from that excellent blog, Boston Catholic Insider.

Friday, November 23, 2012

I Like This Picture

From 1852 to 1860 St. John Neumann was the bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia and worked tirelessly to open Catholic schools.  In 1863 the parish of St. Peter the Apostle, where St. John had been buried, built a school. In 1916 the parish built a new school, but incorporated the cornerstone from the 1863 building. In 2012 the “pastoral planners” of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia tried to close the parish school, open for almost 150 years, to replace it with one of their regional schools. Because of the work of the parishioners of  St. Laurentius in Fishtown, the planners were unable to close St. Laurentius school, leaving the planners with no excuse to make St. Peter’s the site of a regional school, and the parish school survived. A defeat for the planners and a victory for the Church.

What Am I Up To?

The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
                                                          Robert Conquest’s Third Law of Politics

The purpose of this post is to try to explain what it is I’m trying to do with this blog. In the most narrow sense the answer is easy. I think that the “pastoral planners” of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have an ideology that controls what they want to do to the Catholic Church in Philadelphia. They pretend that they have no ideology at all. They act like they’re just neutral planners with no agenda. If you read their stuff it’s clear that they have an agenda, and I don’t think it’s a Catholic one. I think that the more people understand their actual ideology, the less likely the planners are to succeed, so I try to tell people about it.

I got interested in this issue in the summer of 2011. The archdiocesan bureaucrats were closing St. Kevin’s school in Springfield. The dispute was weird. The school’s supporters would be identified in the newspapers by name and they would explain exactly why they thought the school was financially viable and worth saving. Their opponents were not named in the papers and their motives for closing the school was only explained in the most vague and general terms. The pastor, for example, would make statements about why the archdiocese wanted the school closed, but he didn’t say he was speaking for himself, he was relaying the opinion of unnamed archdiocesan employees.  Spokesmen for the archdiocese would issue statements vaguely saying that the school had to be closed because it didn’t have enough kids in it, vaguely implying that there was some financial reasoning involved, but they didn’t claim to be the decision-makers, they were merely the spokesmen for the decision-makers. The archdiocesan employees who were actually making the decision were never quoted, never named. There was never any explanation for why it was so urgent, why it had to be closed right away, why small schools were so intolerable.

Cardinal Rigali wouldn’t meet with the parishioners. Eventually the parishioners bought a billboard on the Schuylkill Expressway asking for a meeting, and he agreed to meet with him. It took a while to actually happen because the Cardinal was traveling. When he finally met with the parishioners he told them that archdiocesan employees had decided to close their school and he wasn’t going to interfere with their decision.

The most common explanation for this campaign against St. Kevin’s was money. People would write letters accusing the Church of caring about nothing but money and taking the school away from the people of St. Kevin’s for reasons of greed.

I didn’t think they were right, but I had no alternative explanation. I started a research project to find out. For one thing, not much money was saved by closing the school. There was no financial reason for doing it immediately. Even more important, I thought, was that closing the school didn’t save any money for the archdiocese. The school was run by the parish. It didn’t cost the archdiocese any money at all.

One of the things I found in my research was the blog “Boston Catholic Insider.” I wished that there was a similar blog for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I wished that someone on the inside would explain what was going on, who was doing it and why. After a while I realized that was not going to happen. Nobody was going to provide direct evidence about what the bureaucrats were up to or what their motives were.

I kept working and eventually read enough of the public writings of the pastoral planners that I think I know what they’re up to. Since no insider was going to step up, I would be the outsider who had learned something and was willing to tell people about it.

Since Vatican II the Church has had the problem of people inside the Church trying to replace the Catholic faith with something else. James Hitchcock’s “Decline and Fall of Radical Catholicism” is, I think, one of the best books on this phenomenon.  Msgr. George Kelly’s “Battle for the American Church” is another great book on the topic. It’s also a theme that runs through Philip Lawler’s “The Faithful Departed,” a book about the history of the Boston Archdiocese. I think that if the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development had existed when Dr. Hitchcock and Msgr. Kelly wrote their books it would have earned a chapter in both. Instead it flies under the radar, pretending like it’s completely without a spiritual agenda, when it most assuredly has one.

One thing about being an outsider is that it’s easier for me to keep this impersonal. I don’t know any private facts about any of these people. I’m very willing to admit that they think they’re doing good. They don’t think that the religion the Pope promotes has anything useful for the modern world. They think that those who can should adopt the “Gather Faithfully Together” religion. I think they’re wrong. I have no opinion regarding whether they are bad people. That’s not my business. I’m not supposed to be judging them.

I don’t think that original sin has left a bigger mark on Church bureaucrats than it has on anyone else, but I don’t think it’s left less of a mark, either. Church bureaucrats have the same tendency to employ the resources of their employer to advance their own goals, as opposed to the goals of the organization, that all bureaucrats do. Robert Conquest didn’t know any of the employees of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but his Third Law of Politics is an exact description of their behavior. Nobody thinks priests, for example, should be allowed to do whatever they want without supervision. All of us have checks on our behavior. Things restrain us from doing what we want to do, and we are required to do what we’re supposed to do, especially at work. I just think that it can’t be assumed that because lay Church employees are not motivated by money, that they are therefore doing the right thing.

There are two facts regarding the management of the Catholic Church that are undeniable. First, objective observation from the outside indicates that things are in a shambles. Second, the people doing the managing act like they are not failing, but are succeeding. The explanation is not that the Church bureaucrats are unaware of what’s going on around them. The goals they think they are successfully working toward are just different from the goals most outside observers think they have.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Letting a Screenshot Speak for Me

I've had complaints that my posts are too wordy, but pointing out the planners' values isn't easy. This post, though, won't require much typing. This screenshot shows a search of "Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development" on the FutureChurch website. It makes my point for me.

More from St. John Neumann

One of the saint's biographers, Father W. Frean, C.SS.R., noted that the “results which attended Neumann’s efforts were not attained without stiff opposition from some quarters. For example, the pastor of St. Michael’s refused to build a school, saying that the undertaking was an impossible one in the circumstances in which he found himself. The bishop who was always very mild, but equally firm when God’s honor and the salvation of souls demanded it, quietly informed the parish priest that if he did not do this work, then he would find somebody else to do it for him.” Blessed John Neumann: The Helper of the Afflicted, pp. 154-155 (Majellan Press 1963).

Things are different now. If a pastor says that it is possible to keep a school open, his opinion is disregarded in favor of the conclusions of the lay bureaucrats. A priest’s career would be furthered by closing a school, not by opening one. And the “salvation of souls” is a subject that is not addressed by employees of the archdiocese.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Denouncing "New Doctrine" in the Inquirer

Now that the crisis is over for most schools I was hoping that some reporting and commentary would appear in the papers that would let people know what had happened and why, but there's been very little. Few reporters seem interested in doing more than printing whatever public spokesmen happen to say.

Some reporters have brought out some interesting facts, and I’ll try to highlight them in some future posts, but in the field of commentary there’s only been one thing written that’s at all insightful, and it appeared in the Inquirer of all places. I think the editors may have perceived it to be somehow useful against the Church because they took its tone to be strident and maybe a little revolutionary. 

A.J. Thomson, from Fishtown, was well-positioned to learn something from this fight, and he did. He was instrumental in the successful appeal of the plan to “merge” St. Laurentius with St. Peter the Apostle, and have the regional school at St. Peter’s. I think that one may have been important to the planners. I think they would have loved to have made the Catholic school at the shrine of St. John Neumann into a regional rather than a parish school. It certainly seems that their plan to close St Laurentius was unnecessary, even under their criteria, since they were unable to come up with a basis for rejecting the appeal.

His column appeared in the Inquirer on February 26. Here’s an example of a sentence that I'm not quite sure about. “And like any struggle for one’s identity, it made us better.” Well, I certainly agree that it was an inspiring struggle. I also agree that it made us better. It got lots of people together in a good way. Those who won accomplished something very much worth doing. Those on our side who did not save their schools were also fighting for the right. But for their “identity?” That strikes me as the kind of psychobabbly word that the planners use. Maybe, though, he used it to mean “heritage.”

I very much liked this paragraph, which shows he’s paying attention.

The archdiocesan officials who delivered the news of the reprieves looked as if they were in the receiving line at their own funerals. Their morose expressions underscored the vast distance between those who want Catholic education and those who have concocted a Byzantine system for telling us we can't have it.
The archbishop was happy. The rich guys were happy. The politicians were happy. The planners and their minions weren’t. They didn’t start this process to get lots of money at the last minute and save schools. They started it to close schools. They don’t like the high schools being saved, and they don’t like all those grade schools’ appeals being granted, showing how shoddy and unsupported their “work” was. Mr. Thomson knows that the people he and his friends fought against to keep St. Laurentius open were not trying to lose. They were trying to win. Maybe the archbishop noticed and learned something from the way his employees acted when they were announcing the saved grade schools.

Mr. Thomson also has spotted the most important issue. He knows that the excuse for the mass closing of grade schools makes no sense.

The new doctrine suggesting that a parish shouldn't support a school seems to come from a mail-order business-school curriculum, not the tradition of Catholicism as we know it in Philadelphia. The paramount aim of our church should be to educate and instill our faith in as many of its young people as possible. For centuries, it has been. Only now is the principle being questioned by a few.
Grade schools don't get money from the archdiocese. They used to be supported by the parishes. If Catholicism is a religion, there’s no reason why parishes can’t support schools. St. John Neumann’s whole idea was that parishes would support schools. The planners never explain why parishes shouldn’t support schools, they just assert it.

I’ve got no business quibbling with Mr. Thomson. He said, in the pages of the Inquirer, no less, in the face of the violent disagreement of the entire archdiocesan bureaucracy, save only the guy at the very top: “The paramount aim of our church should be to educate and instill our faith in as many of its young people as possible.” The planners have many, many goals that come before that one. I’m going to go through with the quibble, though. This “new doctrine” comes from the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office for Research and Planning. They don't preach this new doctrine for business reasons. No business would deliberately damage its main source of new customers. They preach their new doctrine because they want to be in an entirely different business. This is an effective plan for getting the Church where they want it to be.

One more quibble. Mr. Thomson compares the fight to the Civil War and Lincoln’s problem in getting his generals to fight. He says that “it is time to ditch the McClellans―the generals who shrink from a challenge,” and: “We should be asking the archbishop to promote the Grants and Shermans.” Certainly the leaders in the fight to save schools did the right thing. Leaping into the breach on very short notice and putting up a good fight deserves praise. But what does Mr. Thomson want to be promoted to? It may be this request that got his column into the Inquirer. They may have thought he is fighting to reorganize the Church along the lines of Congregationalism, or something. And some of the heroes in this battle were not lay people. Father Olson of Bonner and Prendie certainly distinguished himself in the fight.

More importantly, our problem is not that we have too many McClellans. I wish the planners were more timid. They faced the challenge of a new archbishop who might take away their control of the diocese. They decided to meet that challenge as Michael Corleone would. They put together a plan to “settle all family business” on one day before the new archbishop knew his new diocese.

Anyway, Mr. Thomson did a great job. He saved his school, and he learned enough in the process to write the most perceptive article on the school closings that I’ve seen published anywhere, and he got it published in the Inquirer. I hope he heeds his own call to continue to fight for Catholic schools.

Mission Statement

The planners are quite dogmatic that a mission statement is a requirement for every undertaking, so I’ve added one to the sidebar.

Update: It’s been pointed out to me that the planners now say you also need a “vision.” A mission statement is without vitality nowadays if it doesn’t have a vision to go along with it. So I have a committee going through a five stage series of meetings to come up with one. There’s a lot of disagreement on the topic right now. Some members of the committee are fighting hard for: “The paramount aim of our church should be to educate and instill our faith in as many of its young people as possible.” Others are pushing: “The employees of the archdiocese do not believe that they are failing at running a Catholic school system. They think they are succeeding in achieving goals of their own.”

Wishful Thinking

An Inquirer editorial is entitled “Schools' Victory is Fleeting.” They wish.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tale of the Tweets

Am I right when I say that the planners want to turn parishes into centers for the delivery of social services? When I say they want to promote “lay ministry” over Catholic schools? Well here’s what the planners have sent out on Twitter since February 1.


22% of all Philly Catholic parishes provide nursing and health ministry at the parish serving over 11,000 people last year.

23 Philly Catholic parishes provided literacy programs serving 1,254 people last year.

Parishes employ 146 Directors of the Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults who are volunteers; 47 are employed either full or part time.

92% of Philly sponsor Stations of the Cross during Lent. It is the most popular form of religious devotion in Philly.

The Archdiocese consists of Episcopal Regions, Deaneries, Pastoral Planning Areas and Parishes. (see map)…

10,957 infants, 1,768 children age 1-7 and 621 children age 7-17 were baptized in Philly Catholic parishes last year.

50% of Philly Catholic parishes provide extended care (CARES) programs that serve 5,858 children

There are 142 full time and 91 part time directors coordinators or administrators of Religious education in Philly parishes

Senior High school age parish religious education enrollment up15% in 5 years.…

82% of Philly parishes have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This is 3rd most popular devotion in Philly.

Ten tweets.  Six on social services and lay ministry (CARES (?), literacy, health ministry, PREP, DRE, RCIA), one on the planners’ obsession (maps and extra layers of organization), three on Catholic stuff (benediction, baptisms, stations) and none on Catholic schools. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

St. John Neumann

As everybody knows, St. John Neumann founded our Catholic school system. What's often forgotten is that the first thing he had to do was face the trustee crisis. Only after he established the principle that he had control of the diocese, and not lay parish councils, could he go ahead with building schools. Maybe his successor will take control from the planners, end the school closings, and open some schools.

Sincere Moderate

Now there really is no real reason for me to find this annoying. It's a short article from a sincere moderate annoyed about the shallowness of David O'Reilly's "warrior-bishop" article in the Inquirer. He wants to know Is Chaput too Catholic for the Inky? (People who call Philadelphia "Philly" also call the Inquirer "the Inky".) It's a very perceptive look at the article, calling O'Reilly's work an "all politics all the time profile." But isn't the title of the article a little naive? Isn't the answer to the question obvious? Of course he's too Catholic. Any Catholic is too Catholic. For the Inquirer, like the New York Times, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.


Off the topic of this blog, but here's an interesting discussion of the negative impact of contraception on society from a non-religious person, in fact, an atheist.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Name that Class

George Marlin at The Catholic Thing has a good article about the class that the school-closers don't like: The Decline of Working-Class Catholic Families. It would be great if the Church could give these families some support. One thing that would be part of that support would be respect. Mr. Marlin quotes Charles Murray: “The people who are trying to do the right thing [must] get the reinforcement they need – not in the form of government assistance – but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold.” The planners for the archdiocese, on the other hand, want to close their schools and send them social workers.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Good News

I'll write more about the bureaucrats' plan soon, but first I wanted to get onto the record that it is good news. Putting Bonner and Prendie together in the same building will destroy the distinctive character of those schools, one of the bureaucrats' motives, but as anybody who knows Bonner or Prendie kids will tell you, it's still good news because at least they won't have to go to O'Hara. And St. Hubert's was saved.

It will be interesting to see what O'Hara graduate Mr. Hanway does. And I'm surprised that this foundation so openly espouses the bureaucrats' goals rather than Catholic values, but closer analysis of what's going on will have to wait.

The Rule of the Planners

The Inquirer says that Archbishop Chaput is a “warrior-bishop.” more reasonably says "he has been both energetic and effective in giving a public voice to Church teaching on contentious issues."

If the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development had been around when James Hitchcock was writing The Decline and Fall of Radical Catholicism and Msgr. Kelly was writing The Battle for the American Church, it would have gotten a chapter in each book. Yet here we are in Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput is our bishop and planners from the conference close schools, give every impression that they're going to be reorganizing the parishes next and, in general, are turning the diocese upside down.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What's Behind the School Closing Campaign?

The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

  Robert Conquest’s Third Law of Politics

Archbishop Chaput is in a very difficult situation. We should all pray for him. He is in this situation through no fault of his own. The only thing he did was accept the Pope’s appointment as Archbishop of Philadelphia. All the problems he’s dealing with were here before he got here. He has more to do than can be done. He has to just struggle along, going from one emergency to the next, dealing with each as best he can, making decisions with limited information and very limited time, because he has to move on to something else entirely.

He’s in a big fight with the president of the United States on an important issue. Four priests and a lay teacher are about to go on trial on charges related to allegations of the sexual abuse of boys in the 1990s. Cardinal Bevilacqua died and there was an investigation by the Montgomery County District Attorney into whether he was murdered. A year ago 23 priests were suspended because of accusations made by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and their cases have yet to be finally reviewed to determine whether the suspensions should continue. The archbishop has correctly said that "Justice requires a resolution of these men’s circumstances." The last treasurer of the archdiocese stole a million dollars.

I’ll say this for the former treasurer, though. She didn’t time her actions to make things more difficult for the new archbishop. She’d just as soon have never gotten caught. And, as far as I know, she’s not doing anything now to make his job more difficult.

All the deadlines in the school closing campaign are artificial. They were all set when nobody knew that Archbishop Chaput was going to wind up in Philadelphia. They should have been ignored because as a practical matter all decisions are irreversible. If Bonner and Prendie and St. Hubert’s had been destroyed, there would have been no way of bringing them back. Reopening any of the closed grade schools will be very difficult. With the deadline kept the archbishop could make only small changes. He couldn't be in charge of the whole project.

There's an ideological concept among some Catholic professional church administrators that Catholic education should be limited to the prosperous and the poor (and only a few of the poor). The children of working people should only get CCD or PREP or whatever the next name they make up for it is. Some of these administrators call themselves pastoral planners. Many planners think that the parishes in working class neighborhoods shouldn’t have schools, that they shouldn’t really be involved in religion at all. The planners think that those parishes should instead have social workers and nurses and "pastoral ministers" "nourishing" the people who not only didn’t go to Duke or Penn State, they didn’t even go to Villanova or Cabrini. They think religion is OK for people with money, although it’s a sort of washed-out, vague, inoffensive religion that our planners push. People who don't have much money, the idea is, don't need the Catholic faith, they need the professional services of social workers.

Now, there’s a good chance that you don’t believe this. Why would the employees of the archdiocese act like that? Aren’t they Catholics? I don’t think you should just take my word for it. I’ve got to show that there are facts behind what I say. Unfortunately, talking about facts takes time. This is a long essay.

Here's what I wish the archbishop knew right now about the school closing campaign, the ideology of pastoral planning and the archdiocese.

Public Choice Economics

The school closings have been defended by pointing out that the people who recommended them do not benefit financially. It is said that they acted selflessly. The motives of the employees of the archdiocese who started this process and of the Blue Ribbon Commission are not central. The real question is whether they are right or wrong. Even if it were certain that the persons involved had the highest motives, it would be wrong to go along with their plan based on their motives, if their plan is wrong.

Nevertheless, the fact that a financial motive is not involved does not mean that people should assume that they acted selflessly. The part of the field of economics that studies government decision-making is called "public choice economics." 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. My point is that the planners’ lack of a financial motive provides very little support for this plan. Priests do not become priests for selfish reasons, nevertheless I’ve read articles saying that in saying Mass they should not act to make themselves the center of attention, but make sure that Christ is. St. Teresa of Avila taught her sisters that friendship in the monastery was a potential pitfall. If their motive was to be well-thought of by their friend, as opposed to desiring what was best for their friend, the friendship would not be of spiritual benefit, but a spiritual harm.

Original sin is a problem for everybody, not everybody except lay Church employees. Just personal satisfaction is a possible motive. If a Church’s employee’s main motive is "to make a difference," that employee might tend toward grand plans and big changes, even if that is not the best policy for evangelization. A Church employee may want to be a big shot, and starting a program like this would make someone a big shot. I do not think that St. Teresa would put such a motive beyond the bounds of possibility.

Although motive is certainly a secondary consideration, the point of public choice economics is not that government employees occasionally act to maximize their own satisfaction rather than maximize the public interest, but that they usually do.

The Archdiocesan Planners

If you read the publications of the archdiocese’s planning office you get the idea that the planners want you to think that they are promoting a non-ideological "planning" system for making Church management decisions. I don’t think it is possible to have a value-free system of Catholic Church management. The system is either a Catholic system, or it is an inappropriate system.

The archdiocesan planners say this about themselves: "the Archdiocesan Office for Research and Planning is characterized by a holistic concern with the total mission of the Church within the Archdiocese." They have a newsletter, "InFormation," which is subtitled "News for Pastoral Planners and Those Making the Plan a Reality." The current issue of their newsletter seems primarily to be an advertisement for "professional facilitators," apparently for that "Call to Conversion and Holiness" process that’s going to cause Archbishop Chaput so much trouble. The unnamed author of the advertisement says "In a parish self study the fee would be negotiated between the parish and the facilitator. For budget purposes I would estimate $50-100 an hour."

The current newsletter also includes "a partial reprint from the monthly newsletter November 2011 A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project Milwaukee, Wisconsin." This is the beginning:
Hanging In There
We promised to tell a few of the stories of
those who are struggling with the Church
but are choosing to remain part of it.
These stories will eventually find their way
into a forthcoming book, The Catholic
Dilemma – Remain or Move On: A Resource
for Parish Renewal. The interviews cover a
wide range of topics, including authority, the
role of women, justice, sexuality and
spirituality, to name but a few. One person
wrote, "Many of us have chosen to stay but
on our ‘terms.’ We celebrate with the pastoral
church and disregard the institutional Church."
The article goes on to say "we also inquired into what a parish could do to keep people active and invite new ones to join." This seems to me the way you talk about a club, not the way you talk about the Catholic faith, but the following is from a couple of the "responses" quoted in the article: "Parishes need a collective voice right now. They need to speak out more about problems with the hierarchy." "Parishes need to talk with those who have left about such concerns as women’s issues, balanced language in the liturgy and why many people are no longer coming." This is a publication of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: "Many of us have chosen to stay but on our ‘terms.’ "

The planners’ newsletter often includes a prayer for use at committee meetings. When Catholic people get together to make an important decision, or even an unimportant decision, they often pray that their decision be the one God wants. I don’t think I’ve ever read a prayer like that in their newsletter. You can look it up. They have this newsletter on line. The prayers ask that everybody at the meeting get with the communal program, although they’re not quite phrased as clearly as that.

In 2001 the archdiocesan planners and the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development sponsored something called "Regional Workshop for Parish Pastoral Councils," at Archbishop Carroll High School. A man named Mark Fischer gave a talk. He referred to other speakers as "experts" on parish councils. He was giving his talk based on his experience on the parish council "at St. Joseph Church in Berkeley, California." Before he became a member of that parish council in 1983 "I knew almost nothing about parish pastoral councils." The content of his talk is based on what he learned on that parish council. Now I think the purpose of a parish council is to help the pastor. I think the pastor is the person that is supposed to be in charge of the parish, and if the parish council is doing something else, if it is not helping him, it is doing the wrong thing. Mr. Fischer has a different view.
[T]he Church has given pastoral councils
a threefold function. It is to investigate,
ponder, and make recommendations about
pastoral matters. Councilors have a right to
do this job. If a pastor is not asking the
pastoral council to exercise its proper function,
then the situation is dysfunctional. Parishioners
should seek to remedy it. If their efforts are
unsuccessful, they are not without recourse.
As Father Richard C. Cunningham
has written, "Ultimately they still possess the
power of numbers, of finances, of public
opinion, of sensus fidelium, of conscience,
and the radical power of shaking the dust from
their feet as they exit."
Somebody thought that the members of the parish councils of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia should hear that message.

The archdiocese’s planners have a very specific view of a parish council’s role, involving self-study, planning, mission statements, and bureaucratic stuff like that, and they present this view as if it were Church teaching.

There was in the late 1980s and early 1990s a business management fad for this sort of thing. I think the business world has by and large left it behind as a waste of time. Unfortunately, this fad is alive and well in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I think when the archdiocese’s planners read a Dilbert cartoon they think that the point of it is that Dilbert’s superiors have the solution to all his problems, and the joke is that he foolishly spurns them by refusing to go along enthusiastically. In the business world these things are mainly a distraction from business. In the Catholic world they are a distraction from our faith.

The archdiocese’s planners have a big role in the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. The conference gives the Philadelphia planners awards. I suspect the Philadelphia planners run it. The conference has its membership list on line. Philadelphia has many members. Many dioceses have none. I’d like to prove this with quotations rather than just say it, but this essay is too long already and it is pretty obvious that the conference’s idea of how the Church should be run is not the Catholic idea. You can use Google to read what they have on line. I think reading its publications shows that the Conference sees the "priest shortage" as a good thing, and that its ideal parish organization of the future involves a "pastoral minister," who is not ordained, supervising "liturgical ministers," "music ministers," DREs, healthcare ministers, parish nurses and social workers. The Mass and sacraments are to be handled by "sacramental ministers." A "sacramental minister" is a priest who comes and goes at the direction of the "pastoral minister," providing sacraments to the people who want them, but in charge of nothing, just doing what he’s told to do. There are two ways to get to the planners’ goal. One is priestless parishes. The other is to organize parishes into groups with a priest pastor in charge of the group, but pastoral ministers in charge of the parishes.

I imagine that if I were talking to one of the planners he would say that the conference may publish that kind of article, but that doesn’t mean the conference thinks it’s a good thing, and, he’d say that the Philadelphia planners just happen to be members of the conference and even if the conference had an agenda, that doesn’t mean the Philadelphians support it. I would be skeptical, especially since I think it’s impossible for the organization to be neutral. There can be no "neutral" management technique for the Catholic Church. And why would anyone join a club they disagree with?

The Philadelphia planners have a Twitter feed. Here are some of their tweets.
PhillyCatholic Research ArchofPhila
There are 142 full time and 91 part time
directors coordinators or administrators
of Religious education in Philly parishes.
PhillyCatholic Research ArchofPhila
Philly parishes employ 62 parish social
workers; 35 of these are volunteers.
PhillyCatholic Research ArchofPhila
Philly parishes employ 164 parish nurses;
139 of these are volunteers.
PhillyCatholic Research ArchofPhila
Philly Archdiocese reorganizing into 4
Episcopal regions and 12 Deaneries in
November 2011. See maps here.
Philadelphia’s planners say: "It is the purpose of the office to promote shared responsibility, and to implement the mobilization of human resources for the fulfillment of the mission of the Church." They have divided the archdiocese into "pastoral planners" and "those making the plan a reality," in other words, the people in charge and the people doing as they’re told. If they have a real function, of course, that function is to help the archbishop, but they think they’re in charge. They certainly act like that they’re in charge, even if they say they’re in charge of making us use their self-study techniques to get us to figure out what we’re supposed to want. It seems to me that if a government bureau were organized like the archdiocese is, then a skilled bureaucratic operator would want control of the planning office, because it could be used to control everything else.

The planners have a strange way with the English language. I think their Orwellian use of language indicates something’s wrong. Their use of repetition and catch phrases indicates to me a belief that they can’t be straight about their analysis. Certainly having every piece of paper involved with the school closing campaign say: "faith IN THE FUTURE™ Sustainable Catholic Education For All Who Desire It™" seems to indicate a faith in advertising techniques that’s inappropriate for such a serious topic. That slogan seemed especially sad on the lists of closed schools. And registered trademarks? What’s going on?

After Mr. Fischer gave his talk, St. Joseph parish in Berkeley was in the news. A new pastor was appointed and a group of people announced that they had been wrongly deposed as the parish council. They rejected their dismissal and demonstrated against the pastor at the church.

Class Conflict

I think that class conflict is an important aspect of what is going on with the fight over the school closings. It’s not talked about in public directly, but it’s very pervasive in the way people talk about it privately, and is implicit is much of the public discussion. For example, we’re criticized for being nostalgic about our schools. No one is ever criticized for being emotionally attached to Notre Dame or Princeton or Villanova. Nobody’s ever said that the movie "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is stupid because all the characters have an emotional connection with the school. They don’t like us having an emotional connection with our schools, though. They think it’s fine to have feelings for good schools, but nobody should feel nostalgic for our inferior schools that are being closed for our own good.

One problem with writing about the class conflict aspect of the issue is that the classes in the United States have no names. Charles Murray just wrote a book about the topic called "Coming Apart." He had to make up labels for the classes, and he chose "Belmont" and "Fishtown," Belmont after a Boston suburb and Fishtown after the Philadelphia neighborhood. Mr. Murray assigns to Belmont those with "at least a bachelor’s degree and work as a manager, physician, attorney, engineer, architect, scientist, college professor or content producer in the media. To be assigned to Fishtown, they must have no academic degree higher than a high-school diploma. If they work, it must be in a blue-collar job, a low-skill service job such as cashier, or a low-skill white-collar job such as mail clerk or receptionist." Mr. Murray reports that Belmont is about 20% of the white population between the ages 30 to 49, and Fishtown 30%.

To discuss the class conflict aspect of the school closings controversy I think you have to broaden those two categories somewhat. The first class includes not only Mr. Murray’s Belmont but all the people who aspire to the Belmont life. That is, all the people who have internalized the values of Belmont, even if they do not have to income to actually live like the people in Mr. Murray’s Belmont. They are the people who view Belmont as where they want to be, and view Belmont people as their leaders. I’d like to call all those people Class 1.

The parents of the students at Cardinal O’Hara, for example, are not all from Belmont. But Cardinal O’Hara is a solidly Class 1 school. The ethos of Belmont reigns supreme at O’Hara. You may think I exaggerate, but at O’Hara practically everything worth doing is something that gets you into Belmont, or improves your status in the Belmont world. There really is no other reason to do anything that might be classified as work, and the primary reason for most of the things one might characterize as play.

The other class, for purposes of this school closing dispute, includes not just Fishtown, but people who are doing somewhat better financially than the people in Mr. Murray’s Fishtown, but who do not quickly find out where every new person they meet went to college. That’s Class 2.

From a Class 2 perspective, the plan for the schools looks like a plan for the Church to withdraw from the Class 2 world. Building new high schools for Class 1 is viewed by the employees of the archdiocese as an excellent use of "resources." The schools were built for people of privilege and they will not send their children to anything but an excellent high school. They must be catered to. Closing Class 2 high schools is unquestionably correct because "resources" must be preserved for other purposes. From a Class 2 perspective it seems that it is the archdiocese’s plan to ring the city with high schools, but at quite a distance from the city, and out of our reach.

If Charles Murray’s analysis is correct, and the archdiocese’s planners have internalized Belmont’s attitudes, their goal would be to withdraw from Fishtown. That’s how it looks from Fishtown, too.

Another writer on class issues whose work shows the effect of the planners’ mentality on Class 2 is David Lebedoff, who wrote The New Elite and The Uncivil War. Because Class 2 people are not at home in the committee environment, the planners’ methods would discriminate against Fishtown, without regard for the intention of the planners. Mr. Lebedoff uses the phrases "the New Elite" and "the Left Behinds" as the labels for the two classes. Mr. Lebedoff divides them according to attitudes, rather than income.

Mr. Lebedoff discovered these two classes while working in Democratic Party politics. After the 1968 election liberals re-wrote the Democratic Party rules so that committees and caucuses had power to control things. The result was that people who liked to go to committee meetings, who were comfortable with expressing their views in the committee setting, and who had the time to go committee meetings had more power. Those who didn’t had less. The result was a great decline in the power of the leaders of political machines, a great increase in the power of the New Elite and the nomination of George McGovern in 1972. We saw the effects in the last election, too. Hilary Clinton won the most votes in the primaries, but President Obama did so much better in caucuses that it made up for his losses in the primaries. Or, in the catch phrase of that election, the bitter clingers didn’t vote for the President. He won, though, because the New Elite, or Belmont, or Class 1, the people at home in the talking-in-public, time-consuming, committee environment did.

The hostility between Class 1 and Class 2 is mutual. It is especially evident in those Class 1 people whose status in Belmont is not all that they wish it were.

Anyway, how is the archbishop supposed to figure out class conflict is involved here? I’m from around here. I look for it. Do you remember this? In the early 1980s I-95 had been completed but not opened. It was not open because people who lived in Society Hill demanded that sound barriers be installed. In those days Society Hill was what Northern Liberties is now, the most fashionable place to live for a certain kind of person. That location has been moving north at a rate of about 400 feet a year since then.

One Saturday morning people from the Northeast drove around in Society Hill blowing their horns. The view was that Class 1 people could keep a road closed for lack of sound barriers, but that would be an impossible task for people in Class 2. Decision-makers were (and are) thought to be very willing to impose inconvenience on Class 2, to prevent annoyance to Class 1.

How’s the archbishop supposed to know that?

Decision by Committee

The archdiocesan planners have set up a system of committees that inherently favors Class 1. In the movie "It’s a Wonderful Life" George Bailey had a problem with a committee. It had been convinced to close the Building and Loan. George argued strenuously for the people who do "most of the working and the paying and the living and the dying in this community." I don’t think those people had an advocate on the Blue Ribbon Commission.

I do feel sorry for the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission. They remind me of a person who is picked by a stage magician as a "volunteer" and hears in his ear a whispered request to "play along." Unless the person is the kind who would enjoy making a spectacle of himself in the process of exposing the magician, he will play along. All the magician has to do is not pick a person with the wrong personality, and the trick works.

I know it’s said that the plan is the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission and in some sense I’m sure that’s true. But they had to have been presented with something. Somebody had to bring them information. It’s hard to believe that any one of them decided that St. John Chrysostom school had to be closed and Nativity B.V.M. in Media saved, and even harder to believe that every single one of them would come to that decision after an independent analysis of the question. I think only a few of them could find St. Hubert’s without heavy reliance on a GPS navigator. I don’t think they talked with pastors and principals and teachers and parents of the schools they closed. They didn’t sit in a room for hours and days on end comparing first Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, then one by one through the list for every school ordered closed and every school saved. They approved a plan somebody else devised. They played along. As long as the planners stayed away from the kind of person with the personality, and the time, to ask hard questions, to be obstructionist, to be a problem, there would be no dissent.

It is unclear who the author of the commission’s report is. The "Chairman’s Summary" indicates that the chairman wrote it. He at least signed it. There’s no indication of any kind who wrote the rest.

It is not an easy document to interpret, but I don’t think the commission’s report says that the plan is the commission’s. It’s awfully mushy and imprecise writing, but it seems to say that the commission endorsed the plans proposed by archdiocesan employees.

Committees don’t make decisions in the rest of society. In the corporate world, for example, the board hires top management. It does not make decisions. The legislative branch of government uses committees, not the executive.

I think the Blue Ribbon Commission recommends fifteen new boards for the schools. Do you think that any member of any of those boards is going to be from Fishtown, literally or figuratively? And, more importantly, the only reason to add fifteen new boards to the archdiocesan bureaucracy is to ensure that the archbishop does not control the Catholic schools.

Throughout history Catholics have built great institutions. They never used committees to do it. Other people have tried to accomplish things with committees, though. The archdiocesan planners think they are committee experts. Maybe they are. But compared the leadership of the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches of the 1950s and 1960s they are amateurs in committee work. All the efforts those sincere, hardworking Protestants devoted to committees did not save their institutions from the steady, inexorable decline they are currently undergoing, caused by the loss of faith. Our planners constantly call for "resources" for their pet projects. The Catholic planners will never have the resources that the mainline Protestant denominations had for youth work in those days. No great Catholic institution was ever built with committees. A great abundance of committees did not make the youth work of those Protestant denominations successful. All of this is just a distraction.

This whole committee fixation makes me think of Pope Paul’s birth control commission, and how much ammunition it gave his enemies. On his commission, though, there were a few brave dissenters who took the Catholic side.

The Merits of the Decision

The archbishop has said: "The goal of Catholic education remains the same: We need to give our young people a zeal for the Catholic faith, and a strong moral character." His employees don’t talk that way. The report of the Blue Ribbon Commission doesn’t. The 2011 School Report doesn’t. Any mention of religion is indirect. They don’t usually let religion have a whole sentence, just a clause at the end in a sentence about something else. Their report does not say that the schools teach the Catholic faith, just that they have a "Catholic identity." If there is a reason that a Catholic identity is important, they don’t say what it is.

I don’t think anyone could say these documents show that the people in charge of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese demonstrate a zeal for the Catholic faith. (Of course, if they have a zeal that they keep to themselves, there’s no way to tell.) They seem to want to demonstrate a generalized enthusiasm for something, but they don’t really say what that something is.

All of the writing is mushy and generalized and seems designed to create impressions, but not to tell the reader any specific thing about any specific topic. In 2010 the Pew Charitable Trusts put out a report on the Philadelphia schools. You can find it with Google. The report is limited to the schools in the city, and only has eight pages on the Catholic schools, but it has more information, accurately and fairly presented, than all the stuff I’ve read from the archdiocese put together.

The Blue Ribbon Commission report begins with the words "Catholic schools make leaders." That’s what they’re proud of? That’s the first thing they want to say for the schools? And what about Catholic school graduates who are not leaders, are they failures? It’s a joke that the people in Lake Woebegone think all the students in their schools are above average. The people behind this plan aren’t just thinking that. They’re trying to make sure it’s true. They think they know which schools below average children go to, and they’re closing them.

People are rightly skeptical of information provided by the employees of the archdiocese. Here’s an example of something they said that especially bothers me. The archdiocese’s commission's report complains that in 2001 the "average subsidy of parishes to schools" was $255,450 and in 2010 it was $319,162. That’s inflation. $255,450 in 2001 dollars is $315,114 in 2010 dollars. There is no parish subsidy crisis. I’m also annoyed by the word subsidy. Judging by what the archbishop says about the purpose of Catholic education, parishes and schools should be in the same business. The authors of the Blue Ribbon Commission report seem to think they are competitors. The "subsidy" can only be a problem if the parishes are taking money from a better purpose and spending it on the schools. Why shouldn’t a school be part of a parish’s apostolate? The employees complain about the subsidy, but they never explain what’s bad about it.

The planners have a great hatred for small grade schools. A parish school has two groups of people who care about it, the parishioners and the parents. A regional school has only parents. The creation of regional schools cuts the schools off from parish support. That’s one of the planners’ purposes, as their attacks on parish "subsidies" shows. When the planners have in the past destroyed four or five grade schools and replaced them with a regional school, and the regional school has fewer students, and spends more money per student than the closed parish schools, the result is a religious failure and an efficiency failure.

I don’t believe that the plan will make Catholic education more available in the future, but will restrict it to people with money. I think the authors of the plan agree with me. That’s why they talk about "mission schools" and "tuition assistance." The "mission schools" aren’t for Catholic kids whose parents have jobs. "Tuition assistance" won’t be available for them, either. Nor should it be. People with jobs shouldn’t have to apply to their betters for charity, just so their children can go to Catholic school. The parish should support the school. From the class war perspective, though, Class 1 people have no hostility toward people below Class 2. Helping the poor with some "mission schools" is fine with Class 1, but it has nothing to do with the school destruction plan, and destroying the schools available to working people.

Why is this Dispute so Intense?

I think the first reason is that the Church attracts the hatred of many people, some of whom call themselves Catholic, and they unleash that hatred at every opportunity.

Another reason is the class conflict I wrote about above, and the undeniable fact that the class I think is losing this conflict is not very articulate. They don’t have a polite way to get their point across.

Nor have Catholics been taught that the Church is different from secular institutions with a different decision-making process. Part of that is because catechesis is so bad in general, but I think it’s also because Church employees do not want the Church to have a different decision-making process.

But the reason I want to point out here is that this whole thing is presented as a political decision, with press conferences, a Blue Ribbon Commission, press releases and a whole public relations campaign, straight from the world of secular politics. We don’t hear about it in church. We hear about it on the news. The archdiocesan employees are promoting the plan as a political campaign. That campaign inevitably brings out a similar campaign in opposition.

The Purpose of Catholic Schools

Although the archbishop is clear about the purpose of Catholic schools, the employees of the archdiocese aren’t. Looking at the people I know, I see Catholics coming from two sources. One source is the Catholic schools. The other source is everything else combined. I suspect that in church on Sunday there are more converts than there are people who were baptized as babies and attended only CCD classes, and not Catholic schools. The commission’s report seems to indicate that PREP, or whatever new name they want it to have, is as effective as Catholic schools are in getting children to be Catholics when they grow up. The planning office claims to be big on research and surveys. I’ve never seen a number on how effective those programs are at making Catholics, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Of all the first graders in CCD in 1985, what percent went to Mass last Sunday?

I don’t think Catholic schools should be primarily about Catholic identity, or academic excellence, or making leaders. I think they should be about making Catholics. I think it’s the only effective evangelization program that the Church has. The reason there are as many people going to Mass as there are now is Catholic schools.

I see teenagers at Mass, obviously uncomfortable and out of place, but that’s how anybody would feel if they were fifteen years old and had never been in church without their parents. It’s extraordinary parents who can bring their children into the Church without help, and PREP is not help. I guess the homeschoolers do it, but I don’t think anybody else does.

The Commission report deals with this objection with wishful thinking. It says that if only PREP got more resources, things would be different. They want the teachers to be certified by taking courses taught by the faculty "of local Catholic colleges." I’ve taken theology courses at a "local Catholic college." Whatever certificate a person should get after that, it shouldn’t be for learning about the Catholic faith.

It’s true that religious education in the schools is very bad, too. I certainly don’t want to hide from that. I think that Catholic schools are somewhat effective at making Catholics because the kids are exposed to other kids and teachers who are serious Catholics. It gives them a chance to meet Catholics, other than their parents, in an environment where Catholicism is normal. It makes the kids more relaxed about the Church. CCD kids are focused on how much they don’t know. Religious education in the Catholic schools is so bad that the Catholic school kids may not know much more, but they’re more relaxed in their ignorance, and more likely to concentrate on what they do know.

If the leadership of the Catholic schools were interested in providing the students with zealous religion teachers, think how much more could be accomplished.


I only have four more things to say, and two of them are jokes.

I hope the archbishop never makes another decision supported by the Inquirer's editorial board.

I am praying that the archbishop makes the decisions God wants him to make. I hope that he is not reading prayers asking that he be conformed to the planners’ communal process.

The archdiocesan planners act like we have a choice. If we don’t like the way the diocese is being run we can "Remain or Move On." If we want we can "shake the dust" from our feet as we leave, or keep calling ourselves Catholic, "but on our terms," so we can "celebrate" what we like and "disregard" what we don't. They’re wrong about that, too. We have nowhere else to go for the words of everlasting life. John 6:68.

I try to remember to pray for the archbishop every day, including requests to St. Ambrose, St. Charles Borromeo and St. John Neumann to pray for him. No matter what the archbishop decides, I’m stuck with him, but I hope he decides to run things differently.