“May We Burn Forever”

The last of the church occupations in the Archdiocese of Boston is over after 12 years. The occupiers of the former St. Frances Cabrini church in Scituate have vacated the premises after a final desecration of the once-sacred space, having been given the court order to leave by midnight Monday night.

Following the denial of their final, final, “no really this time it’s final” appeal, the occupiers led by the Rogers family left the building. The Rogers were the ringleaders behind the occupation and they repeatedly denied over the years that one of their motivations as abutting property owners was the prospect of seeing the multimillion-dollar acreage next door sold off and developed, despoiling their views.1

Rogers addressed the crowd at the sending-off party yesterday with a phrase that should send a shiver down everyone’s spines: “This is not a death, but the birth of a new church and a new way of thinking… We are the bright light our world needs, and I pray that we burn forever.” (emphasis added) I think the demonic irony was unintended.

That was followed by the announcement that they would form a new “Catholic community” church led by a man who has left the priesthood and married. and because Satan really, really wants us to know he’s behind all this, they will be meeting at the Freemason’s lodge in town.
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The Church wins by making a new group of Protestants

After a dozen years, the Archdiocese of Boston has finally prevailed in the courts over a group of sit-in protesters who refused to vacate the former church of a suppressed parish, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate. I blogged about this sit-in from the beginning, and it was clear early on that this wasn’t just about parishioners who didn’t want to lose their parish. If that were so, this would have ended like the other dozen or so sit-in protests that have faded over the years. No, this was about certain abutting interests in Scituate who didn’t want to see 30 acres of waterfront real estate go on the market and disrupt their neighborhood. And it was about an archdiocese so worried at looking like the bad guys at first that they dealt with kid gloves.

Sure, some church officials will see this as a win, having waited out the protesters until every last conceivable (and inconceivable) appeal was exhausted and every previous promise to vacate the premises broken. (In fact, I’ll believe they’re done when they leave on their new promised date of May 29.)

But what have we, as a Church, won besides the right to sell some land for a tidy profit? It looks like we’ve won some new Protestants.

Rogers said that after leaving the church, his group would gather in a new location and attempt to reach out to former Catholics who have drifted away from the church since the clergy sex abuse scandal surfaced in 2002.

Not exactly what we’re supposed to be about.

God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston has issued a new Pastoral Letter on Divine Mercy called “God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us.” The title recalls the parable of the Prodigal Son and how the father looked for his son’s return and when saw him a long way off, ran to meet him. The parable is on the one hand about a son who sins and repents, but it’s also about how the son who stayed home needs to learn mercy from his father.

Just as the father goes out to embrace the prodigal son and bring him home, he also searches for the elder son to teach him to be merciful. The father loves and forgives both sons and wants them to live in peace and harmony. The father rejoices over the conversion of the younger son and hopes for the conversion of the older, hard-working, responsible son who finds it so difficult to pardon his brother. The father explains to his elder son that he has always been with him and that all that he has remains his inheritance, but that his brother was lost and his return is worth rejoicing. The father is unconcerned about his property and his honor. He is concerned only about his sons.

He then adds other elements, including 7 ways for Catholics in the archdiocese to live mercy in the Jubilee year.

The Crux Experiment is Over, Long Live Crux

After 18 months, the Boston Globe is shutting down Crux, its web site dedicated to coverage of the global Catholic Church and led by veteran Vatican analyst John Allen. According to the Globe’s editor, Brian McGrory, it wasn’t for lack of readership, but lack of advertisers willing to advertise specifically to the Catholic market.

Welcome to the world of every Catholic publisher in the past forty years.

The big pitch for Crux fro the beginning was that it would be independent, unlike all those other Catholic publications that had icky attachments to the Church. First, not all other Catholic publications are tied to the Church even remotely. Catholic World News, for example, where I worked for many years, had no institutional or other ties to the Church, except that it employees were faithful Catholics covering the Church.

Second, what’s wrong with having ties? Apparently the Globe doesn’t see that as being a problem in all journalism. After all, the Globe’s owner, John Henry, is also an owner of the Boston Red Sox, the local team that the Globe’s sports writers regularly cover. So it’s just a problem for religion coverage and not sports coverage?

They also seem baffled that it could fail in Boston, that most Catholic of cities. I’ll say what I said then: Boston may be culturally Catholic, but when you have less than 12% of Catholics attending Mass on Sundays, I’m not sure you can call it a Catholic city. If you want to find a Catholic city in the US these days, you have to look South and West. Very far South and West.

Predictably, the takeaway by the Globe—and the Atlantic article I’ve linked above—is that religion coverage just isn’t good business. Despite getting 1 million monthly readers—and double that during some papal trip—they conclude that people don’t want to read about religion in their news.

What they don’t seem to consider is that apart from John Allen’s usual excellent analysis of the Church, Crux didn’t have much to offer. You had columnist Margery Eagan, who represented the lapsed Boomer Catholic who still identifies as Catholic but rejects the Church’s core moral teachings. You had an advice column that sometimes skirted around the edges of what should be acceptable for Catholics. Even their general news coverage in Rome by Ines San Martin wasn’t bad, but wasn’t enough to differentiate it from the wire services and sometimes advanced the same bad reporting about Pope Francis that the rest did, e.g. “Who am I to judge?”

Yes, there were other golden nuggets apart from John Allen, including Steven Greydanus’ movie reviews and contributions from people like Fr. Dwight Longenecker. But sites like National Catholic Register, Aleteia, and even Patheos offer as much and more. And I suspect that their owners and stakeholders expect a lower return on their investment than the Globe’s billionaire owners.

And, frankly, part of what did in Crux is that there is so much good independent Catholic writing and, even, reporting out there that isn’t packaged in a corporate left-leaning package, not just from the big group blogging sites, but also from individual writers and thinkers as well. They just didn’t offer a package compelling enough to draw the advertising dollars the Globe wanted. But I suspect it could draw enough to support lower expectations.

To wit, John Allen says he’s going to take the Crux brand and try to make a go of it on his own. I wish him good luck because the Church needs his particular voice and clear-eyed analysis. And I expect that he can attract enough to support to provide him and a couple other people with a decent living. Maybe that will be enough. Maybe that’s what journalism is going to be.

It may be that the decline of Crux has more to say about the future of mainstream journalism than it does about the future of religion journalism.

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God, Wall Street and the New Push to Save Catholic Schools

“The trend could end disastrously, says Jack Connors, co-founder of the Boston ad agency Hill Holliday and head of the city’s Campaign for Catholic Schools, which has raised $79 million. There are 90 parish schools left in the Boston Archdiocese, he says, down from 250 in 1965. At the average rate of three closings a year, the number will zero out in 30 years.

“If that happens, it’s the end of our faith,” Connors says.”

That’s a startling comment. Are Catholic schools vital to the continuation of the Church in our dioceses? Can we raise up disciples without them in our current environment? Are they doing so even now?

I keep coming back to the statistic in Forming Intentional Disciples that we’re losing most of the kids as they enter adulthood anyway, so they can’t be doing that great of a job now. Apart from the value of Catholic education to individual children and society, from a discipleship and evangelization perspective are they required?

Archdiocese of Boston surveys Catholics about church and its leaders

Archdiocese of Boston surveys Catholics about church and its leaders – The Boston Globe:

“The Archdiocese of Boston has hired a top Democratic consultant to poll Catholics in Eastern Massachusetts — most of whom no longer attend weekly Mass — to find out what they think about the church and its leaders.

John Marttila, who served as a strategist for Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, and Deval Patrick, has overseen a phone survey this month on behalf of the church, asking active and inactive Catholics a wide-ranging series of 90 questions.”

They’re asking questions about whether people support abortion or want to see women in leadership positions in the Church, in addition to how often they go to Mass and why they might not go, among others. Inevitably some will say that this is the archdiocese watering down the Church’s teachings or catering to dissent, but that’s a shortsighted approach.

Before you make plans for evangelization, you need to find out where people stand. There are a lot of assumptions out there about what people believe, but what do people actually understand about Church teaching? Why do they dissent? What is their understanding of those teachings? What do they need to know?

When a pastor knows where his people are then he knows how to approach them. He can change what is available for change without attempting to change what is immutable.

Sacred Heart Church, Newton

We attended a baptism of some friends’ daughter at Sacred Heart Church in Newton on Saturday. It is a beautiful church built in an Italianate style. I’m no architect expert, but it had the feel of architecture around Assisi.

The church has a fascinating history. At the front, to the left of the sanctuary is a portrait and a bronze plaque with text of a letter from Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, in the 1930s, thanking the parish for its hospitality in hosting him for a brief stay. Beside the plaque is a very large, very old paschal candle from the Vatican, which was obviously a thank-you gift. Cardinal Pacelli would go on to become Pope Paul VI Pius XII.

Speaking of bishops, the parish has a history of pastors who became bishops. Cardinal Spellman of New York was its pastor at the time he received his episcopal appointment and then Cardinal Cushing was pastor before becoming archbishop of Boston. He was followed by another pastor who became an auxiliary. How you’d like to be the guy who followed him and didn’t become bishop?

Catholic New Media Conference in Boston is a Hit


This past weekend, the Archdiocese of Boston hosted the Catholic New Media Conference, the seventh presented by the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN) and the second time the archdiocese hosted it.


I was the primary coordinator from the Archdiocese for the conference and despite my worst fears, it went off pretty well. In fact, I haven’t heard a single complaint from anyone or a single negative remark. If I hadn’t been running around like a mad man the whole time, I might have said it was the best CNMC I’ve experienced (this was my fourth).


The keynote address was given by Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a key figure in the Vatican’s social media efforts. He spoke about the thinking behind and the lessons learned in their recent projects including the papal Twitter account @Pontifex, the News.va news portal, and the Pope App. He was by turns humorous and forthright about the lessons learned (not to mention the new vocabulary he picked up from the responses to the papal tweets). Scot Landry has done a good job of summarizing the talk and you can also watch it in its entirety below.

The bottom line is that the Vatican gets it. They understand social media and have really leapfrogged everyone in what to use and how to use it. I’m going to need to re-listen to this talk so I can use the wisdom in it to improve the new media efforts of the Archdiocese.


My own contribution was a talk I did along with Fr. Roderick Vonhogen on the use of video in new media. My portion was dedicated the live video streaming and I covered the gamut from free and simple to complex and requiring some investment. Other talks included George Martell giving his take on how to take better photographs, Maria Johnson discussing writing online, Pat Padley on reaching out to a mobile generation, Scot Landry on reaching out to inactive Catholics, Fr. Roger Landry discussing Pope Francis’s communication style, Jeff Young and Fr. Roderick on using Internet audio, and Angela Sealana on lessons from the Blessed Mother on being a new media missionary. In the afternoon, we wrapped up with a moderated panel that included many of the people above as well as the Archdiocese’s Fr. Paul Soper, director of pastoral planning, answering some very good questions, including one about how we reach the poor and marginalized using new media.


As you might expect the day began with Mass and ended with Adoration. Then while some folks went out for a Tweetup at a local establishment, when I finished cleaning up, talking to some of the people, and seeing everyone off, I headed home to collapse in my chair with a stiff drink.



Sunday, we rose early, the whole family, and headed into the North End of Boston to Sacred Heart Parish for Mass with the parishioners there. It’s a beautiful Italian church full of statues and devotional imagery. We pretty much took over with our conference attendees. The celebrant was great, a visiting Jesuit from Boston College, who looked like a Tolkien dwarf and gave a smashing homily that connected the Red Sox, a Gatorade commercial, and the parable of the unjust judge.


Following Mass, we were scheduled to take a Duck Tour of Boston. To be honest, I’d never taken a Duck Tour and it was a lot of fun. The driver was real character, obviously selected for his personality, although he seemed obsessed with how much everythig cost in his script. It was a gorgeous day on the streets of Boston and on the waters of the Charles River and so it was a great tour. He even let Sophia and Anthony “drive” the Duck while it was in the water. (Isabella and Ben refused the opportunity.)





Lunch was the next stop, at a place appropriately named Artu (like R2D2, get it?), which was nice for about half the meal until Anthony and Benedict started getting restless. Besides the rolls, there was nothing they wanted to eat and they were getting tired already. I opted to make a tactical retreat, taking the boys and leaving Melanie with the girls. We went around the corner to Modern Pastry, where I bought them slices of Sicilian pizza and a “black and white” (we always called them half-moons) pastry. We sat on some steps to eat and then rejoined the group as they were coming out of the restaurant.


The schedule for the rest of the afternoon was some practical media training. George Martell would lead a group on a walk around the area of Boston, teaching his group how to tell a story through photography while Fr. Roderick did the same with audio and video and then after an hour they would switch off. However, Melanie and I decided had probably gone as far as they could for the day and made our way back to our car. Although it was after a stop at Mike’s Pastry so Melanie could get a treat for her and the girls. It was only fair.


All in all, it turned out to be a pretty great, if very tiring CNMC and I’m glad it seemed to go well for everyone. It’s always a great chance to connect with people I only ever see online. Unfortunately as a co-coordinator, I couldn’t spend much time in that interaction this year. It was nice that Fr. Roderick had extended his trip and we were able to invite over to our house for dinner on Monday.

So that’s the CNMC. For all the great photos from George Martell, including ones I used here, go to BostonCatholicPhotos.com, where they are available for download under a Creative Commons Share-Alike, Attribution-Required license.

You can read other recaps linked from Maria Johnson’s blog including her own.

In persona Christi

(Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) May not be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.
(Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) May not be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.

My colleague, George Martell, took this photo of me and Cardinal Seán after an adoration and prayer service with him and other Pastoral Center employees to pray with and for him as heads to Rome for the conclave.

I asked Anthony who he saw in the picture.

“Daddy,” he said.

“And who else?”


Job #1 accomplished, Your Eminence.

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