To Whom Shall We Go?

When it comes to the Catholic Church, so goes the popular logic, if something happens to make you angry, always blame the Pope (or the Vatican), or the archbishop (or that darn archdiocese).

Every problem in the Church, in this view, whether the decline in Sunday Mass attendance, the closing of a school or parish, or the shortage of vocations, is the fault of the Pope or the archbishop.

That’s because the perception is that the Catholic Church is a “top-down” organization — at least according to most newspapers, magazines, and radio/TV news — where decisions are always secretly made way at the top, and the “little guy” is ignored.  That’s not only true of the secular media.  In a recent edition of a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York, I counted six blasts at bishops and the Pope in the first six pages!

Want some recent examples?

A newspaper on Staten Island blames the recent controversy about the proposed sale of an unused convent to an Islamic group on — guess who? — that autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese!

Sorry, editors, but the Archdiocese does not micromanage.  I trust our pastors, religious, and lay administrators to run the day-to-day details of our nearly 400 parishes, hundreds of schools, healthcare institutions, and charitable programs.

A decision to sell any parish property initially rests with the pastor of the parish, who should act in close concert with his parish and finance councils and must act in close concert with the parish trustees.   In the current case, the pastor concluded after prayerful reflection that the sale would not be in the best interests of his parish and recommended its withdrawal.

But, never mind all this.  The editors know better.  It’s the fault of that mean-old “archdiocese.”

You want another example?  For years, the pastor and people of St. Michael’s Parish have scraped, saved, and sweated to keep their excellent parish high school open.  Even though not one student in the school actually lived in the parish, the pastor and people fought to save their school, giving $400,000 annually to keep it going.

Finally, reluctantly, early in the spring, with only thirty new students enrolled for next school-year, the pastor and parishioners sadly decided they were out of money, and couldn’t do it anymore.  They asked “the archdiocese” to confirm their decision and, after being reassured that every girl could be welcomed at nearby St. Jean Baptiste High School, St. Vincent Ferrer High School, and Cathedral High School, at the same tuition, “the archdiocese” agreed that the good pastor had made the proper, albeit sorrowful, decision.

Who’s to blame?  The alumnae?  The pastor and parish?  Those who did not reply to frequent appeals for new students or donations?

Surprise, surprise!  The nasty, money-hungry, mean-old “archdiocese” is to blame, according to a source in another, this time, Irish newspaper.  See, this source explains, the property of the high school is valuable, so the stingy, money-grabbing, high-handed archdiocese has callously disregarded the kids to get the money.

Had anyone asked, “the archdiocese” would have let him or her know that there were no plans to sell the structure, and that, even if such happened, the money would stay at the parish, not the selfish “archdiocese,” according to Church law.

Experts in leadership style tell us that, as a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is probably the best example around of the principle of subsidiarity; namely, that a decision is best made at the level closest to the people who will have to live with the results.

To be sure, there have been, are, and will be instances where controversial decisions are made by “the archdiocese,” or by me as archbishop.  When that is the case, I’m not about to “pass-the-buck” and blame somebody else.

But, that’s not the case in the two tough situations mentioned above.

Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

It’s so easy, popular, juicy — and sells papers — to blame the “corrupt Vatican” and “money-hungry archdiocese.”

It’s just that it’s not accurate.

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6 Responses to “To Whom Shall We Go?”

  1. Brian Taber says:

    Thank you Archbishop Dolan for an education in the principle of subsidiarity. I heard the term used during the health care debates but not in this context.

    I feel for you regarding school closures this must be painful for you.

    Here on the west coast we are struggling to keep our grade school open and my youngest is in fifth grade. The school is a real blessing to the community. The children receive great catechesis and are able to connect their faith and the liturgy to their lives.

  2. Irene says:

    Respectfully, Archbishop, there have been school closings in NYC that were NOT the decision of the parish, but of the Archdiocese. One pastor in the South Bronx a few years ago first learned that his elementary school was going to close when he read it in the newspaper. I think it’s great that you embrace subsidiarity and leave these decisions to the parish, but not all of your predecessors always did so; maybe that’s why folks assume these decisions are made at the top.

  3. Frank Shea says:

    Reciprocally, the Archdiocese doesn’t get credit for sustaining those parish pastors who do such wonderful work. For example, the Monday, June 21st New York Times article on Fr. John Flynn & his 20+ years at St Martin of Tours in the Bronx and 55 years in the priesthood.

    His story is one for which the Archdiocese should get recognition. While I assume you were pleased with the article (especially from the New York Times) and the good, inspiring way it portrayed Fr Flynn, it did not say anything about the Archdiocese’s support. Did the paper seek your comment on the story? Maybe you want to recognize him yourself as an example of what compassionate people the Archdiocese has and what the Archdiocese is all about.

  4. Thank you for this much needed clarification. I work at a parish (in another diocese) and I know that there is often confusion about money and how decisions are made.

  5. Leah Rand says:

    Does a Catholic School have the option to become a “Christian” school? I think this would open our schools to a much broader audience. Lessons about Jesus Christ and the Ten Commandments would be the focus. Catholic-specific lessons would be optional and taught for afterschool on a designated day(s).

    Has this ever been tried?

  6. Mary says:

    Archbishop, are you saying that each Pastor of each school closing at the end of this school year made the decision the close down their school ?