Looking Back and Looking Ahead

On the Catholic calendar, Christmas continues through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, observed this year on Sunday, January 13.  In effect, we’re only halfway through the real Christmas season, and if we take the time to pray over the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we’ll find plenty of reasons to keep the joy of Christmas alive in our hearts.

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These Christmas days coincide with the beginning of a new secular year.  It’s a good moment to look both back and ahead.  So much happened in 2012 that it’s hard to compress in a single column: a sweeping reorganization of our Catholic schools ministry; a revitalized Catholic Charities Appeal; new seminary leadership; dramatically improved policies that govern the handling of allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by archdiocesan clergy and staff; an expanded and far more thorough annual archdiocesan financial report; the start of new Catholic education and Catholic community foundations; a successful struggle for «school choice» related funds in the state legislature; a difficult criminal trial; the sale of the cardinal’s residence and other key properties; a vigorous new Council of Priests; a first-ever Archdiocesan Pastoral Council; hard but necessary budget and staff cuts; the recruitment of excellent new financial leadership and legal representation.

The list goes on, and it includes the outstanding safety training and ongoing support for sexual abuse victims offered every day by the Office of Child and Youth Protection.  It includes the good work of archdiocesan Catholic Human Services and its affiliated ministries.  It also includes the situation of priests with past allegations of misconduct placed on administrative leave in 2011.  Nearly all of these men had their cases resolved in 2012, thanks in part to the efforts of former prosecutor Gina Maisto Smith and her multidisciplinary team, who have now concluded their work. The few cases that remain await action or clearance by civil authorities before the Archdiocesan Review Board can complete its work and recommendations.

The year ahead will have its own serious challenges.  There’s no magic cure for the suffering of past abuse victims, the morale of our people and priests, or the gravity of our resource problems.  Parish closures and additional budget and staff adjustments can’t be avoided, but they always involve intimate pain for good people.  We also face difficult cases of abuse-related civil litigation, and the complex legislative issues and harsh media coverage that may follow.  At the same time, we have an ongoing need to help victims heal; to rebuild the trust of our people and priests; to restore the financial health of the archdiocese; and to rekindle the apostolic zeal of our ministries. 

None of these tasks will be easy.  None is guaranteed success.  So how can we possibly find «joy» in the midst of such uncertainty? 

We can take confidence from the fact that a great deal of good really has been accomplished over the past 12 months. We’ve come a long way in a short time, not by our own power but by the grace of God and the generous good will that resides in Catholic hearts across this extraordinary local Church of Philadelphia.  Many good people have stepped forward to help.  Their number will grow as we prove by our actions that the Church is about the work of the Gospel – preaching Jesus Christ and serving God’s people without vanity, without privilege; without complacency; but with love,with courage; with humility and candor.  That’s the Church Jesus Christ founded.  That’s the Church Philadelphia’s own St. John Neumann, whose feast day we celebrate on January 5, served with such passion and self-denial as bishop.  That’s the Church we need to help God rebuild in our life as a believing community.

Christmas didn’t end in late December.  It’s still alive for anyone who seeks it — right now, right here, today.  Every new child is a gift, an invitation to hope; and the Child born in Bethlehem hasn’t disappeared.  He’s with us in these remaining days of the Christmas season to refresh our hearts and turn us again to service in the coming months.  So may God fill us with gratitude for all the compassion he showed to us in 2012, and courage for the work he invites us to in the year ahead. And may God bless all of us in 2013.

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Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia

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