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.

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