Thursday, January 24, 2013

Council of the Baptized Calls for the People’s Voice in the Selection of Bishops

Who could be appointed Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis if John C. Nienstedt were reassigned? Given the secrecy of the appointment process, we do not know when that could happen. We are thinking ahead in the hope of having a voice in the selection of his successor.

Earlier today, the Council of the Baptized published its position paper entitled People’s Participation in Selection of Bishops.

• To read it and/or print a copy, click here.

• For information about ordering a copy and/or making a donation, click here.

Usually a big archdiocese like ours (800,000 Catholics at last count) would be the next step up for a bishop from a smaller diocese. Without recommending any, we have begun profiling some possibilities, starting with Blase Cupich [soup-itch] of Spokane, WA. It is also possible that St. Paul/Minneapolis auxiliary bishop Lee Piché might be moved up to archbishop, as Auxiliary Bishop John Roach was elevated to Archbishop in 1975 to succeed Archbishop Leo Binz.

Or it is also possible, though unlikely, that a priest of the diocese would be elevated to archbishop.

Who would know the details of a diocese more intimately than a priest who was ordained and has served here? Instead of a man from outside, it might be possible to have a leader who knows the people, places, and needs of the local church. Who might some of these people be?

Our profiling is intended to suggest to Catholics of the Archdiocese the possibility of our having a voice in the selection of our church leadership, not to recommend any of the men we profile.

Canon law currently requires that appointments for bishop be made from the ranks of the ordained clergy. The man has to have been ordained at least five years and be thirty-five years old. The retirement age is seventy-five.

So without recommending any one of these men, we have compiled a list of possible appointees. Some names were suggested as people already on the bishop track, and some were suggested as men who would make good bishops. The Archdiocese does not provide priests’ résumés. We had to search several internet sources for available information. We didn’t want to ask the man himself for fear that his giving us information would give the appearance of campaigning.

While campaigning is prohibited, the papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó has assured us that he is willing to hear recommendations from us individually. It is his job to investigate candidates and send names to the Vatican for appointment.

Click on the name to see a profile of the following priests of this Archdiocese:

1. John M. Bauer
2. Michael C. Becker
3. J Michael Byron
4. Scott M. Carl
5. Kevin I. Clinton
6. Timothy D. Cloutier
7. Andrew H. Cozzens
8. Paul F. Feela
9. J. Michael Joncas
10. Peter A. Laird
11. Kevin M. McDonough
12. Philip J. Rask
13. Michael V. Tegeder
14. Timothy J.Wozniak

If you have missing information for these profiles or you would like to suggest other names for profiling, contact us here.

If you want to recommend any of these men or any other priest you think would make a good bishop, write to the papal nuncio. Send your letter to:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó
3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington DC 20008.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Council of the Baptized Recommends Comeback for Archdiocesan Pastoral Council

Did you know that in our archdiocese in the 1970’s we had an elected Council to bring lay people and ordained people into communication with each other?

Communication — without it there is no such thing as church. No communication, and there is no spiritual growth, no stable organization, no flow of energy and joy. The Holy Spirit is all about communication.

Since January 17, 2012 we have had a Council of the Baptized initiated by lay people of the archdiocese to set up some channels of communication. Their first publication was sent to Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on January 17, 2013. It is a recommendation from the people asking the Archbishop, who is by canon law the chief decision-maker for the local church, to bring back an elected Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.

The APC in the 70’s was a response to the directives of the Second Vatican Council to the bishops to consult with the people of the church. In the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus, 1965), the Council bishops say “It is highly desirable that in every diocese a special pastoral council be established…to investigate, to consider, and to formulate practical conclusion about those things which pertain to pastoral work” (CD 27).

All the questions raised by people during the 2010 strategic planning process are “things which pertain to pastoral work.” Why are people not going to Mass? Why is there a shortage of priests? What can be done about the divisions in our community?

The position paper recommending a new APC is available on request here.


Following is the Council of the Baptized's January 18, 2013 media release about its call for the re-establishment of a Pastoral Council within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Contacts: Karin Grosscup (612-825-4069) and Terry Griep (651-457-4339)

Council of Baptized Calls for Re-establishment
of Pastoral Council

Citing historical documents, including a 1967 letter from then-Archbishop Leo Binz of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and earlier Catholic Church practices that included a Pastoral Council, the Council of the Baptized recommends that leaders in the archdiocese of today, including Archbishop John Nienstedt, re-establish an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.

The Pastoral Council would be a collegial association of laity, clergy and hierarchy, whose purpose would be to facilitate communication among all baptized Catholics and to consult in pastoral planning to better serve the mission of the Church. In a researched position paper, completed in December 2012, the Council of the Baptized said that in "recommending the re-establishment of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, we include specific structural elements, such as elected membership, open agenda and open meetings to ensure the Council’s sustainability."

Support for a Pastoral Council can be found in the following:

• Scripture and the practice of the early church.

• Documents of Vatican II and subsequent papal documents.

• Code of Canon Law 1983.

• Contemporary best management practices.

• Precedent of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and evident current need.

In summarizing the above practices and documentation, it is significant to emphasize that a diocesan Pastoral Council was in place between 1967 and 2005. According to reports from participants, the council of the 1970s and 80s was one of "two-way communication." However, in the late 1990s a shift took place, and according to reports from participants in later councils, the selection process for council members deteriorated and the workings of the Council faltered. That council did not function well and ended in the period of 2004-2005 without an official decree of termination.

It should be noted that in 2010-2011 Archbishop John Nienstedt appointed an ad hoc advisory task force for strategic planning. The fact sheet, dated June 2009, on which this planning process was purportedly based showed a growing Catholic population, increase in socio-economic and ethnic diversity, but dwindling financial support, Mass attendance, and participation by youths. The fact sheet cited fewer clergy available for parish service also. This first phase of planning produced parish mergers, clusters, and closings and school closings in an effort to streamline the delivery of services. The details of this strategic planning initiative are on the Archdiocesan website.

The strategic planning uncovered a host of challenges besetting the local Catholic Church. Reestablishing an elected Archdiocesan Pastoral Council offers a way to engage representatives of all parts of the church’s life to address these challenges and similar questions. Such a council will provide a vehicle for communication among laity, clergy, and hierarchy, necessary for the nature and mission of Church.

Such a council must meet the following structural criteria:

• Elected membership: Lay men and women, diverse as to ethnicity, geography, theologies, and sexual orientation, shall participate in open elections in parishes, deaneries, and other associations to select Pastoral Council membership;

• Open agendas: All members are free to submit agenda items and receive agenda items from the Catholic faithful;

• Strategic coherence: Representation from other consultative bodies must be sufficient to ensure coherence in Archdiocesan pastoral planning;

• Transparency: All Council meetings shall be open to observers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price

By Fr. Tony Flannery

Note: This commentary was first published January 21, 2012 by The Irish Times.

Three days after my 66th birthday I find myself forbidden to minister as a priest, with a threat of excommunication and dismissal from my congregation hanging over me. How did I find myself in this situation?

I joined the Redemptorist congregation in 1964 and was ordained 10 years later. That was the era of great openness in the Catholic Church. We believed in freedom of thought and of conscience, and that church teaching was not something to be imposed rigidly on the people we served – they were intelligent and educated, and could take responsibility for their lives.

As preachers we must try to present the message of Christ in a way and a language that spoke to the reality of people’s lives. This necessitated a willingness to listen to the people, to understand their hopes and joys, their struggles and fears.

Helping people to deal with the teaching on contraception during the 1970s was a great training ground. Just repeating the official line of Humanae Vitae was no help. During those years priests and people alike learned a lot about how to form their consciences and make mature decisions about all areas of their lives. As priests we learned more from people than they learned from us.

As the years went by we could all see that the teaching authority within the church was reverting to the more authoritarian style of ministry practised in the past. As authority became centralised in the Vatican once again, pressure came on priests of my generation to be more explicit and decisive in presenting church teaching: orthodoxy was now the imperative, and allowing people to think for themselves was seen as dangerous. There was no room for grey areas.

Reports to Rome

We became aware that there were people around the country who reported any slight deviation from the official stance by a priest, for example allowing a woman to read the gospel at Mass. Throughout the world, priests were being sanctioned, silenced and even dismissed because they would not toe the line.

In autumn 2010, I was one of a small group who set up the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). This association was unique in that it was an independent body of clergy, a new phenomenon in the church, and one with which the authorities, in Ireland and the Vatican, were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle. The growth of the movement served to catapult me into a more prominent position, which brought me to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). I had been writing for various religious magazines for more than 20 years without any problem. But suddenly last February I was informed by my Redemptorist superiors that I was in serious trouble over some things I had written. I was summoned to Rome, not to the Vatican, which to this day has not communicated with me directly, but to the head of the Redemptorists.

This was the beginning of what is now almost a year of tension, stress and difficult decision-making in my life. Initially my policy was to see if some compromise was possible, and it seemed in early summer this was a real possibility.

But I gradually became aware that the CDF continually raised the bar, until it got to the point where I could no longer negotiate. I was faced with a choice. Either I sign a statement, for publication, stating that I accepted teachings that I could not accept, or I would remain permanently banned from priestly ministry, and maybe face more serious sanctions. It is important to state clearly that these issues were not matters of fundamental teaching, but rather of church governance.

So now, at this hour of my life, I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest. I have always believed in the church as the community of believers and as an essential element in promoting and nourishing the faith. I have enjoyed my years of preaching, the main work of Redemptorists, and never had any doubt that Christ’s message was one worth proclaiming.

But to give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience is too high a price for me to pay to be allowed minister in today’s church.

Catholic identity

There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.

I believe that the real aim of the CDF is to suppress the ACP – attempts have been made to clip the wings of the Austrian association. I hope and pray it will not succeed.

While I am dealing with these issues in my own life I believe it is appropriate for me to temporarily stand down from my position of leadership in the association. I will, however, remain an active member, and will be available to help in every way possible for the work of the ACP, which is bigger than any one person.

Finally, it could be asked why I am going public now having remained silent for a year. I need to take back my voice.

Related Off-site Links:
Dissident Irish Priest Fears Excommunication Over Views on Women Priests – Patrick Counihan (, January 21, 2013).
Priests Support Flannery Over Challenging Views – Patsy McGarry (The Irish Times, January 21, 2013).
Irish Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery Gets the Ray Bourgeios Treatment from the CDF – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, January 20, 2013).
Priest Is Planning to Defy the Vatican’s Orders to Stay Quiet – Douglas Dalby (New York Times, January 19, 2013).
Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, January 23, 2013).
Fr. Flannery's Grasp of Theology Better Than That of His Silencers – Eugene Cullen Kennedy (National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
A Catholic Leader Calls for Church Reform
Swiss Benedictine Abbot Speaks of Church Reform
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto
A Church in Flux
American Catholic Council Issues "Declaration for Reform and Renewal"
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
Hans Küng Urges Peaceful Revolution Against Roman Absolutism
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)

Image: Jekaterina Saveljeva (for The New York Times).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Catholic Spirituality for the 21st Century

Someday after mastering the winds, waves, tides and gravity
we shall harness the energies of love. And then, for the second
time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.

– Teilhard de Chardin

You are invited to a workshop on
Our Role in God's Evolving Creation:
A Catholic Spirituality for the 21st Century

Choose any of the following:

One session:
WHEN: 9:00 a.m. - Noon, Saturday, February 2.
WHERE: Woodmere Apartments Party Room, 33 NE 2nd St., Buffalo, MN 55313. (Note: This workshop registration is now closed with 60 participants. If you live in the NW quadrant of the Archdiocese and would like to attend a future workshop, email
FACILITATORS: Catholic educators Tom Smith-Myott and Katie Johnson.

Three interdependent sessions:
WHEN: 7:00 -9:00 p.m., Thursdays February 21, February 28, and March 7.
WHERE: For location, call Paula at 612-379-1043.
FACILITATORS: Tom Smith-Myott and Nancy Cosgriff, DMin.
COST: $15/session. Scholarships available with pre-registration. Call Paula at 612-379-1043.

One session:
WHEN: 9:00 a.m. - Noon, Saturday, March 9.
WHERE: WomanWell, 1784 Lacrosse Ave, St. Paul (off White Bear Ave between I 94 and Highway 36).
FACILITATORS: Nancy Cosgriff, DMin and Delmarie Gibney, DMin.
COST: $25. Scholarships available with pre-registration. Call Paula at 612-379-1043.

Workshop Focus:

• What do we know about our human story as part of the Universe story and why does it matter? How do you explain creation to your children/grandchildren in the light of what science has been telling us about the "Big Bang" and the ongoing process of creation?

• What does the new creation story tell us about our nature as originally blessed? How do we experience and share this blessedness?

• How does the new story affect your understanding of God? Of Jesus? Of salvation? Of church? Of prayer?

• What spiritual practices help us participate more fully in the process of creation?

To register and/or for information about scholarships, contact Paula at 612-379-1043 or Registration checks can be mailed to: Paula Ruddy, 20 2nd St. NE, #2304, Minneapolis, MN 55413.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time – David Korten (Yes! Magazine, January 17, 2013).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Catholic Leader Calls for Church Reform

By Cara McDonough

Note: This commentary was first published January 18, 2012 by The Huffington Post.

For the most devoted Catholics, the recent holiday season was a time to reflect more fervently on spiritual endeavors, a time celebrate their faith in its fullest terms.

For many, however, Christmas marked the first time they attended Mass in months. Some cite a growing personal conflict with Church practices as reason for abandoning a regular Mass-going schedule; remaining Catholic in name, yet disagreeing with the Church on certain principals, such as abortion, birth control or gay rights.

"Cafeteria Catholics," some call us (yes, I count include myself in this group) – namely, those among the clergy and laity who consider dissent from Church beliefs unforgivable – referring to the "picking and choosing" aspect of this religious lifestyle. It's not a complement.

But Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, author of Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful (released in 2012), has decided to turn the term on its head.

"They're the cafeteria Catholics," he says to me, during an interview about his book, of the ultra-conservative individuals not willing to recognize that the Church has changed. "You've got to fight them on their own terms. They're not seeing Vatican II as legitimate. The windows that Vatican II opened are being closed."

This is far from the most radical thing that De Thomasis states in his incredibly frank assessment of the modern-day Catholic Church, which is sure to anger many who view these traditional beliefs as unchangeable.

To others (like me) his book is a crucial – and refreshing – step in the right direction.

DeThomasis, even considering his position as a De LaSalle Brother, is willing to speak out against what he describes as an increasingly inflexible hierarchy, unwilling to bend or even discuss such issues as the droves of young people fleeing the Catholic Church, the difficult questions surrounding sex abuse scandals or the question of ordaining women priests.

"I look at the way the church is treating women ... in this day and age, come on," he says. "You just cannot give any credence to the fact that women shouldn't be equal to men in all things, including ordination."

In this concise, easily digestible yet thought-provoking 10-chapter book, DeThomasis explores conflict within the Church and the resulting mass exodus of Catholics frustrated with an increasingly unbending hierarchy. There volatile subjects are usually reserved for private conversations, but discussing these matters out loud is now crucial, he says; discussion is, in fact, the Christian thing to do.

He begins, in Chapter One, by asking a question: Is the institutional church dying? Yes. And even though it may be politic to add "unfortunately," I offer no such qualification. I believe that the death of the institutional church as we all know it can be the last opportunity for it to transform itself into something that once again is able to carry out its original purpose.

That "original purpose" is getting lost in the shuffle of bureaucracy, says DeThomasis. The hierarchy's recent investigation into the practices of American nuns, for example, not only further disgusted modern Catholics disillusioned by their Church; it was as far from Jesus' original message as you can get.

"I contend they're not doing things in a business sense correctly, they're not doing things in an organizational sense correctly, but most importantly, they're not doing things in a Christian sense," he says in his interview with me. "You looked at Jesus' life -- he bucked the authorities, he called them hypocrites."

While he adds that there are certainly Church leaders who do not fall into this category, and who are doing wonderful deeds, he remarks that the result of a distant, all-powerful and unbending hierarchy is an inevitably disillusioned laity. DeThomasis, who served for 24 years as president and professor at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, says this attitude is particularly – although not exclusively – prevalent among young Catholics.

"I was immersed with Catholic young people," he says. "Each year it just got worse and worse with the young people not understanding what the hierarchy were saying. It was like speaking a foreign language."

Yet in the face of what seem like insurmountable hurdles, DeThomasis sees the impetus for positive change.

A synopsis on his book jacket states that he doesn't write out of "any malice or mean-spiritedness but rather with a sense of urgency and love."

And he tells me that he is optimistic. In talking to DeThomasis – who is funny, warm and most of all, passionate – I too feel optimistic about the state of a church that, yes, I still choose to identify with, despite disagreeing with many of its core principals and decisions. It is the first time in a long time I have felt that way.

He says an important part of the solution is for the disaffected to stay with the Catholic faith, but not to stay silent: "My faith tells me that the Holy Spirit does work. I am convinced by us talking like this, and I hope this would give you incentive to talk to others. There is a tipping point, and these changes are going to start to happen more and more. So yes ... I am hopeful."

Cara McDonough can be followed on Twitter at

Related Off-site Links:
The Subversion of the Second Vatican Council – Brother Louis DeThomas, FSC (The Huffington Post, April 25, 2012).
Christian Brother and Former St. Mary's President Calls for Women’s Ordination, "Flying in the Face of Tradition" – James Martin, SJ (America via Bridget Mary's Blog, June 15, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Swiss Benedictine Abbot Speaks of Church Reform
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto
American Catholic Council Issues "Declaration for Reform and Renewal"
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
Hans Küng Urges Peaceful Revolution Against Roman Absolutism
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Save the Date!

Pax Christi Twin Cities and Call To Action Minnesota
invite you to . . .

Hope is Alive: Discipleship of Compassion

A Winter Gathering with Sister Simone Campbell

WHEN: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Registration: 8:00 – 9:00 a.m.
Program: 9:00 a.m – 3 p.m.

WHERE: Plymouth Congregational Church
1900 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55403

COST: $35.00 (lunch included). After February 23, $40.
(For information about scholarships, visit

Sister Simone Campbell is Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice Lobby in Washington D. C. and founder of “Nuns on the Bus.” She is a religious leader, attorney and poet with extensive experience in public policy and advocacy for systemic change. In Washington, she lobbies on issues of peace building and economic justice. Around the country, she is a noted speaker and educator on these public policy issues. Most recently she has been recognized for her work on healthcare reform especially as it affects the working poor of our nation.

Sister Simone will discuss how to remain hopeful in these times of economic, environmental, societal, and political uncertainties. "We are called to be disciples of compassion," she says, "to create a world of love and nonviolence."

For more information including scholarships,
call Marilyn Schmit at 952-935-1305 or

Related Off-site Link:
Sister Activist – Rebecca Burns (In These Times, October 1, 2012).

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt

Dear Archbishop Nienstedt:

Thank you for the Rediscover Catholicism initiative and the copy of the book by Matthew Kelly. We wholeheartedly agree that a conversion of spirit is necessary for the Archdiocese to begin working together as one. As Richard Rohr has said about us in our spiritually immature condition, “The egocentric will still dominates: the need to be right, the need to be first, the need to think I am saved and other people are not. This is the lowest level of human consciousness, and God cannot be heard from that heady place or met at that level.” We all have to humbly surrender to the Spirit of God to rise to a new level of consciousness.

We acknowledge that we the Catholic laity need conversion of spirit. We ask you to acknowledge that you, as the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese, need conversion also. Through Matthew Kelly’s book you are addressing “unengaged” Catholics, Catholics who are immersed in individualism, hedonism, and minimalism (just enough religion to get by). We call your attention also to the many very engaged Catholics, imbued with Gospel values, who are now disengaging because they see entrenched policies and practices of the Church that are inconsistent with those Gospel values. It would be a first step to healing if you publicly sought to open your heart and mind to the people you have alienated. Until you do, your words about evangelization do not meet the authenticity test that Matthew Kelly advocates.

Many of us will gather with others in our parishes to discuss this book, listen to each other, ponder in our hearts, apply our God-given reasoning powers, and discern together what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in 2013. Matthew Kelly’s hopes for the program reported in Joe Towalski’s Catholic Spirit article on January 3 gave us hope: “Most of all I am looking forward to [how] it will ignite people’s faith [in ways] that we have not even imagined. We are working toward some intended outcomes, but the Holy Spirit will take this work and use it for so much more.”

If we, lay and ordained together, turned to God within each other, our Archdiocese could become the shining example of Church—the “best version “ of Church—that we are meant to be: fully alive, radiating Jesus' core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity and transforming love.

Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team 
Michael Bayly
Mary Beckfeld
Paula Ruddy

Catholic Education, in Need of Salvation

By Patrick J. McCloskey and Joseph Claude Harris

Note: This op-ed was first published January 6, 2013 by the New York Times.

Catholic parochial education is in crisis. More than a third of parochial schools in the United States closed between 1965 and 1990, and enrollment fell by more than half. After stabilizing in the 1990s, enrollment has plunged despite strong demand from students and families.

Closings of elementary and middle schools have become a yearly ritual in the Northeast and Midwest, home to two-thirds of the nation’s Catholic schools. Last year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed one-fifth of its elementary schools. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is expected to decide soon whether to shut 26 elementary schools and one high school, less than three years after the latest closings. Catholic high schools have held on, but their long-term future is in question.

This isn’t for want of students. Almost 30 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists, even after sharp tuition increases over the past decade. The American Catholic population has grown by 45 percent since 1965. Hispanics, who are often underserved by public schools, account for about 45 percent of American Catholics and an even higher proportion of Catholic children, but many cannot afford rising fees.

Since the early 19th century, parochial schools have given free or affordable educations to needy and affluent students alike. Inner-city Catholic schools, which began by serving poor European immigrants, severed the connection between poverty and low academic performance for generations of low-income (and often non-Catholic) minority kids.

Until the 1960s, religious orders were united in responding to Christ’s mandate to “go teach.” But religious vocations have become less attractive, and parochial schools have faced increasing competition from charter schools. Without a turnaround, many dioceses will soon have only scatterings of elite Catholic academies for middle-class and affluent families and a token number of inner-city schools, propped up by wealthy donors.

As in other areas, the church has lost its way, by failing to prioritize parochial education. Despite the sex-abuse scandals and two recessions, church revenue — which flows from parishes via Sunday donations, bequests and so on — grew to $11.9 billion in 2010, an inflation-adjusted increase of $2.2 billion from a decade earlier. Yet educational subsidies have fallen; the church now pays at least 12.6 percent of parochial elementary school costs, down from 63 percent in 1965.

Much of the money has gone to paying for a growing staff: about 170,000 laypeople, priests and members of religious orders, including some unpaid volunteers, responsible for more than 17,000 parishes. Since 2000, there has been more than a 25 percent increase in lay ecclesial ministers, who serve alongside priests and deacons in ministering to colleges, hospitals and prisons and caring for bereaved or homebound parishioners.

The church should shift its spending and also hold ambitious fund-raising drives. Instead of approaching donors with the least effective pitch — filling deficits — educators, pastors and prelates should propose new initiatives (with help from Web sites like and Kickstarter) and new schools.

Bishops preach social justice but fail to practice it within the church. Thirty percent of American parishes report operating deficits, but there is no systemic means for wealthier dioceses and parishes to help poorer ones — and to stave off self-defeating tuition increases.

After finances, personnel is the biggest challenge. Once upon a time, a pastor and two assistant priests took care of religious duties, while nuns ran the parish schools. Now, typically, there is just a beleaguered pastor (increasingly born and trained in Asia, Africa or Latin America) without any experience in running the business side of a parish and a school. Priests’ collars and nuns’ habits have become rare sights in parochial schools.

One solution is at hand. In the late 1960s, the Vatican allowed men to be ordained as deacons, who are clergy with many but not all the powers of a priest. Today there are almost 17,000 in the United States, about the same number as active diocesan priests. Over the next decade, the diaconate will continue to grow, while the number of ordained priests is projected to decline to 12,500 by 2035.

Many deacons have valuable professional, managerial and entrepreneurial expertise that could revitalize parochial education. If they were given additional powers to perform sacraments and run parishes, a married priesthood would become a fait accompli. Celibacy should be a sacrifice offered freely, not an excuse for institutional suicide.

Without an overhaul of money and personnel, the future of Catholic education is grim. Since 1990, the church has closed almost 1,500 parishes. Most were small, but just as big-city parochial schools are being closed, thriving urban parishes may be next on the chopping block.

“The school is more necessary than the church,” said John J. Hughes, the first archbishop of New York. Unless the Vatican and the American bishops heed those words, the decline in parochial education may forewarn the fate of the church itself.

Patrick J. McCloskey, a project director at the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago, is the author of The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem. Joseph Claude Harris is a financial analyst and the author of The Cost of Catholic Parishes and Schools.