Friday, June 28, 2013

What Should be Done? Part 3.

I started thinking about how this problem should be solved, and started to write about that, but never actually did, instead I wrote about how different people would deal with it. In Part 1 I wrote about the planners and in Part 2 the archbishop. This time I'll write about what I would do. The title is wrong, though. I kept it because Parts 1 and 2 are already out there, but I'm not telling anybody what they should do. I'm writing about what I think I would do.

First, spoiler alert, at the end I'm going to say that I hope I would stick with the Church, no matter what. Maybe I could cut myself off from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but never from the Church. I think that whatever happened I could never cut myself off from the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. But what would I do before the end, what would I do to prevent the destruction of something wonderful?

If the archbishop's actions were going to destroy something I loved I think I'd try to change his mind about it. I think it would be my only chance.

How would I try to change his mind? Well, I think he thinks he knows what he's doing. I think he thinks he's doing the right thing. The bureaucrats handling things day to day hide behind unnamed archdiocesan spokespeople. The archbishop replies to emails.  He doesn't do it to be polite. His responses are not particularly polite. Not a lot of "thank you for your concern" or "I understand your pain." The reason he sends you the email is so you know what he thinks, and that's what's in the email.

But we still don't really get through to him. He's writing and talking to a lot of people all day. He says he can't spend much time communicating with any one of us, and he's right. That's just true. Communication between regular people and the archbishop reminds me of wrestling matches at the Arena in the 1960s. We've got an urgent message for the ref, but we can't get through to him. He can't really talk to us because there's too many of us and we're too worked up. Some are begging. Some are indignant. Some are pointing and gesturing and explaining. But none can get the message across that the reason Bruno Sammartino is stumbling around dazed is that Killer Kowalski pulled a foreign object out of his trunks and hit Bruno on the back of the head with it. It seems counterproductive but we can't stop. It distracts the ref from the ring so Kowalski gets away with using the foreign object again. But we have to keep it up, because we can't be silent.

I've spent a lot of time reading what the planners write to figure out why they do what they do. Trying to figure that out lead me to read about something called "public choice economics" and reading what Robert Conquest had to say about bureaucracy. I don't feel the need to do any research to figure out why the archbishop does what he does. The bureaucrats hide behind nameless spokesmen, travel to Las Vegas on the eve of horrible announcements and sign nothing. They're obviously ashamed of what they do. The planners are on Twitter. Sometimes, when they send out a stupid tweet, I reply to the tweet, saying why it's stupid. They always ignore me. Would the archbishop leave his word undefended like that?

You don't have to like the archbishop, his religious beliefs or what he's doing to notice he's not like the bureaucrats. He does what he does because he thinks he's right. He's comfortable with himself. He might be wrong but he doesn't feel guilty. Like it or not, that's just true.

There's a fairly famous book, called "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers." It points out that a good way to get things from bureaucrats is to make them feel uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable you make them feel the more you get. And that's just true.

But does anybody think that would work with the archbishop? The mayor of Ourem thought he could get the children of Fatima to change their story by throwing them in jail. Assuming you could make him uncomfortable, the archbishop would still stick to his story just like the children of Fatima stuck with theirs, and for the same reason.

The archbishop is stuck with doing what he thinks is right. The only way to change his mind is to change his mind. The only way to do that is to get him to believe something is true that he doesn't believe now. Telling him stuff he already knows won't work.

Here are some things I'd like to tell him about St. Joachim:

Reliance on the pastoral planners is a mistake. Relying on people who rely on the pastoral planners is just as bad.

A lot of the planners' published criteria for church closings are meaningless mushy nonsense.

The planners said they would release "the source of information about the parishes made available to everyone involved." They haven't.

The $100/hour "facilitators" discredit the whole enterprise.

If St. Joachim actually failed the planners' criteria there would be a document explaining how it failed. If the process were transparent we'd all have it. If it existed they would have given it to the archbishop. Has he read it? Does it exist at all? Does it make any sense?

When the archbishop talks about closing parishes he always talks about the practical obstacles to keeping them open, when his employees talk about picking churches to close they always use Oprah language so vague that it's impossible to summarize. Any chance that their goals are different from his? Would he really close a parish for failing to have "active advisory councils, with recommendations put forth by the parish based on consultation with their Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Council and Parishioners?" And, by the way, why do the employees so often capitalize common nouns?

The "Relationship to the Local Church" section of their criteria seems to say the a parish in an area with poor people in it can be closed for not having enough "ministries" for poor people, but a parish in a rich neighborhood has no obligation to have "ministries" for poor people. It's hard to tell because the employees never speak directly, but that's what I think it means. Would he ever say something like that?

Don't these criteria unfairly favor a parish with people with too much time on their hands who like to sit in committee meetings and hear themselves speak? Isn't that wildly unfair? Is there in the entire Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the documents from the Ecumenical Councils or the writings of the saints one word about our need for committees? Isn't it wrong to consider committee-work at all when deciding what parishes to close?

Many of the criteria involve the parish employees. Aren't the parish employees all answerable to him ultimately? If he appoints a pastor who is not good at hiring and supervising employees, should the parishioners be punished by closing the parish?

Thoughtful intelligent people, like George Marlin, say it looks like the Church is withdrawing from the world where working class people live into an upper middle class world with plenty of insulation from people with less money. Does he think this is true, or that it just appears to be true? Shouldn't you want to run the diocese in such a way that it doesn't even look true? 

Isn't he rubber stamping a fundamentally unfair process? Real Philadelphians can tell you what no Catholic church in Frankford means. He's from elsewhere, but doesn't that cast some doubt on the suburbanites who launched this crazy process?

Could a fair process ever result from the crazy published criteria?

I think I'd end with a reference to Charles Murray's book "Coming Apart." With a special emphasis on Philadelphia he writes about the contempt people in the upper middle class have for people with less money. Isn't his experience in Philadelphia consistent with the theory that his employees share in that contempt? 

If Murray’s analysis is correct, and the archdiocese’s planners have internalized upper middle class attitudes, their goal would be to withdraw from Frankford. That’s the way it looks from Frankford, too.

That's about the end of my argument for the archbishop. One thing the archbishop is right about is that in the Catholic Church the bishop is in charge of the parishes, not the lay people. St. John Neumann had to prove that in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and he did. As Chesterton said, though, "To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it."

The archbishop wants this dispute to be over. I don't blame him. I want it to be over. I'm sure the people of St. Joachim want it to be over. Here's a Catholic fact that the archbishop has not yet mentioned, though. Nothing can make this decision truly final. The Archbishop of Philadelphia can at any time stop the process of closing St. Joachim's. And after that process is over and it is officially and legally closed he can start the process of re-opening it at any time. We're in a real Luke 18 situation here. The widow has the right to petition for justice at any time. The judge has the power to deny the petition, but he also always has the power to grant it, no matter how many times he's denied it. He can say his decision is final. He can be completely certain in his own mind that it's final. But he is allowed to change his mind. There's nothing he can do to prevent himself, or some future bishop, from reversing his decision. That is a power that a bishop has in the Catholic Church that he cannot destroy. This could end because the widow stops petitioning. But it can't end because granting the petition is impossible. That will never be true.

So if the archbishop were set on destroying something I very much loved, I'd try to stop him. I'd try to use rational argument to stop him. If I failed I might be mad, justly or unjustly. But I don't think a bishop could hurt me enough to drive me out of the Catholic Church. He could change my behavior, though. If I were from St. Joachim it would be awfully hard for me to go to Holy Innocents. I think I'd go to another city parish. I don't think he could get me to go to the Diocese of Camden. About 20 years ago I had a friend who didn't want to take the nonsense anymore and started going to a Ukrainian church. That would be a lot easier to do. 

Anyway I'm praying that the archbishop sees through the people who present him with plans like this, and thinks of a way to save St. Joachim. It would take a miracle, but I'm a Catholic. I believe miracles can happen.

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