St. Ann asks Vatican to investigate Chaput; ‘He’s gone too far’
St. Ann parishioners in Bristol have asked the Vatican to investigate the stewardship of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on the recommendation of a consultant hired to appeal the closing of the parish.
St. Ann is one of five Bucks County churches closed in June and merged into nearby churches this month.
The parishioners hired Boston-based consultant Peter Borre and two lawyers based in Italy who are familiar with canon law to handle the appeal over the closure of their church. Borre recommended they also ask the Congregation for the Bishops, the senior personnel department of the Vatican, to look into how Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput is overseeing the archdiocese.
“We are asking for a formal investigation of Archbishop Chaput’s stewardship of the archdiocese because we contend that the cure is becoming worse than the disease,” he said.
The request and the church closure appeal were included in 48 pages of documents sent to Rome this month.
It is unfortunate that “rapidly spreading dysfunction,” as Chaput’s critics call it, is spreading through the archdiocese as Philadelphia prepares for the World Meeting of Families in September 2015, the investigation request states.
With the closure of dozens of schools and parishes throughout the archdiocese, the “dismantlement” of chancery functions and scandalous trials, “the climate in the city is becoming inauspicious,” the appeal states. It calls for an investigation to “make a careful judgment of recent events affecting tens of thousands of Catholics.”
The archdiocese doesn’t see it the same way, noting the Philadelphia archdiocese was entrusted by the Holy See with the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis appointed Chaput to the Pontifical Council for the Laity earlier this year.
“Both of those facts objectively point to the confidence the Vatican has in his ability and leadership,” said Kenneth Gavin, the director of communications for the archdiocese.
And “Archbishop Chaput has stated on numerous occasions that he understands the emotion involved with parish mergers, but that they are necessary for the viability and sustainability of the Catholic Church throughout the archdiocese. He would much rather be in the position of opening new parishes,” Gavin said.
Demographic changes weren’t addressed for years, and parish life and the availability of clergy have made pastoral planning necessary, he added.
But Borre argues Chaput is not protecting the parishes.
“The reason is, under canon law. the parish is the block of Catholicism, the place where the people encounter God,” Borre said. “The parish should be protected, not destroyed.”
Borre added since Chaput arrived to head the archdiocese three years ago, he’s shut down or changed central functions of the church — Catholic schools, a weekly newspaper, nursing homes and cemeteries. As a result, people have lost their jobs, he said. And there are more church closures expected.
The archdiocese said many administrative actions required Vatican approval. Examples include the sale of the former archbishop’s residence, the decision to lease cemeteries and outsource their management and the sale of nursing homes operated by Catholic Health Care Services, Gavin said.
“In each of those instances, appropriate approval from the Vatican was sought and obtained,” he said.
Although Catholic schools “are wonderful,” as Borre said, the Catholic Church’s priority under canon law is to protect churches, he said. Still, Catholics were hit hard by recent school closures too.
“He’s gone too far,” Borre said. “He’s thrown out the babies with the bath water.”
The archdiocesan officials believe they had to make those moves for the preservation of the religion.
“While an emotional response of that nature is certainly understandable, our Catholic faith is about something much greater and more important than any one church building,” Gavin said. “… It’s hoped that those who express a true love for the church will take time to reflect seriously on what is best not for themselves as individuals, but rather to think about how they can work together to build parishes that can effectively serve the spiritual and pastoral needs of generations yet unborn.”
If the Congregation for the Bishops goes ahead with the investigation, the governing body can do so in secrecy or in public, Borre said. It could take at least a year, he added.
A local retired bishop could be assigned as chief investigator and report to the Vatican, Borres said.
No matter the outcome, the archdiocese feels confident in Chaput’s handling of the church mergers, Gavin said.
“It’s important to understand that as part of its appeal review process, the Vatican very closely examines the process by which the archbishop reached his decisions,” he said.
“The Vatican has not only reviewed this process on multiple occasions without overturning a single merger decision, but also has expressed no concern whatsoever about the process being employed in the archdiocese,” the spokesman added.
Still, Borre strongly believes St. Ann has a shot with both the appeal and investigation request based on his experience.
He submitted investigation requests on Bishop Richard Lennon in Cleveland, and Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw, Michigan, and it “remains to be seen whether ‘bishops’ will launch the investigation, known formally as an apostolic visitation.”
In Ohio, Lennon closed about 50 churches in 2009. Of those, 20 appealed the closures to Rome, and the Vatican agreed to review 11, Borre said. All 11 closures were overturned in 2012 by Rome’s Congregation for the Clergy, he added.
“Three of the 11 signed me up; the other eight I assisted informally, answering their questions from time to time,” he said.