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July 9, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 18

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– Necrology

COMMENTARY

Mission territory — again

It is downright shocking to hear that only 18 percent of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regularly attend Mass. But Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave this message when he addressed journalists at the Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis June 20.

The installation of the archbishop, who came to head the Philadelphia archdiocese only 10 months ago, was symbolic in a sense. The installation liturgy took place on Sept. 8, right after a devastating hurricane hit the Mid-Atlantic. Many who attended the Mass had to overcome tremendous obstacles to get to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul because travel had been severely curtailed due to storm damage.

Archbishop Chaput spoke to the Catholic media professionals the same day after a Philadelphia jury acquitted Msgr. William Lynn on two charges and convicted him on one charge of child endangerment. They did not agree on two charges against Father James Brennan resulting in a hung jury.

The jurors had been in deliberation for 12 days. The next day Archbishop Chaput was back in Philadelphia where he announced the layoff of 40 archdiocesan employees and the closing of The Catholic Standard and Times, the Catholic newspaper which had been established 117 years ago. The last issue has already been published.

The archbishop’s statement was honest and apologetic.

“As a bishop, the only honest way I can talk about the abuse tragedy is to start by apologizing for the failure of the church and her leaders — apologizing to victims, and apologizing to the Catholic community,” Archbishop Chaput added. “And I do that again here, today.”

He praised his predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, for reaching out to victims and trying to prevent sexual abuse in the future.

Archbishop Chaput said that the clergy sexual abuse crisis “masks other problems that also run very deep” in a “troubled Catholic culture.”

The problems, Archbishop Chaput said, “began building decades ago” when “the church in the United States became powerful and secure. And Catholics became less and less invested in the church that their own parents and grandparents helped to build.”

The blame for this problem, he said, can be assigned both to church leaders “for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance” and to lay Catholics who “have been greedy to lose themselves in America’s culture of consumerism and success.”

Church leaders for many years were triumphal and thought the people will come to the Church. But now the people are not coming. Some have moved on to other denominations.

“The result,” Archbishop Chaput said, “is that Philadelphia, like so much of the church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory again — for the second time.”

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