Last night, a good friend and I had a conversation that essentially boiled down to this: When do you take a stand against an organization that you care so much for and/or one that does countless amounts of good, but is also doing so much wrong? How long can you look the other way or justify your own complacency? When you take the bad with the good, what happens when the bad starts outweighing the good? What is your last straw?
That’s the moral conundrum I’ve been in most of my life with the Catholic Church. Being an openly-gay man it should come at no surprise that I must justify quite a bit to remain in the Church. What has kept me is part-familial (raised Catholic/have staunch Catholic grandmothers), part-pride (I am proud to be a member of an ancient religion with so much history, culture, and tradition of charity toward and defense of the poor that has not ceased for two thousand years).
But recently, I’ve felt that pride slipping—partially from the disgusting and massive sex abuse scandal, but particularly because of what I see locally with the Diocese of Rockford and its continued abandonment of the poorest areas in the Forest City.
This wide-scale abandonment of the West Side has been ongoing for decades, starting with the construction of Boylan Catholic High School on the North Side and most-evidently with the Diocese’s HQ move to the Far East Side. This abandonment has most recently come back into the limelight when community activists exposed the Diocese’s plans to demolish multiple historic Church structures, including a school, in one of the poorest (but up-and-coming) neighborhoods of Rockford—leaving the West Side little more than a Catholic pit-stop.
The Diocese has multiple arguments for their current plans: cost of building renovation, desire for more parking (hence the pit-stop), first amendment rights to freedom of religion. The most jaw-dropping one I’ve heard is that they want to make sure none of their properties ever become abortion clinics.* **
One of the saddest arguments I heard justifying the Diocese’s abandonment of the West Side came from my own childhood priest. He noted that the Church goes where the Catholics go. Since Catholics moved north and east, the Church moved north and east. How passive, let alone deeply unsustainable. To think that a Catholic’s faith is so weak that an extra ten-minute drive could be the decisive factor in leaving the Church, I find deeply insulting.
But what’s more insulting is the incredible inequality the Diocese allows to persist and actively participates in as seen through its lop-sided investments. To rub salt in the wound, while the Diocese cannot find the $2-3 million to renovate the Chancery, Holy Family on the East Side has raised nearly $8 million to renovate its campus.
If one parish can raise that kind of money, think what the Diocese could do on a larger scale for the poorest areas. Or, if they do not wish to invest, they could and should sell—those properties are stunning pieces of the neighborhood fabric and their rehabilitation would strengthen the community. A parking lot would not.
From all of this, it’s become more and more evident to me that the Diocese invests where the Catholics are, not where the poor are. I think that’s wrong, backwards, and goes against what I was taught in CCD. This blatant inequality also adds to my growing concerns of the Catholic Church and makes it more difficult for me to find that pride in my Catholicism.
So I say this to you, Diocese of Rockford: Heed Pope Francis’ call. Remember that tradition of charity toward and defense of the poor. Invest and double down in our poorest neighborhoods. We need you.
* There are multiple vacant buildings near and around Church property. If the Diocese is so nervous that 10, 20, 30 years down the line they may be near an abortion clinic then by-golly they better start investing a ton of their resources into buying up and tearing down every resemblance of community around them—just to be safe. While they’re at it, I’d just ask they fill a pothole or two—y’know, so at least the drive to church on Sunday is pleasant (since all the houses would be gone, no one could walk to mass instead).
**Also, the Diocese is acting as if no other community has every dealt with a vacant Church structure before. Do some research and see how other Dioceses deal with properties they do not use anymore. Here's one article about an old Catholic Church in Chicago: Click Here