Friday, November 23, 2012

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.

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