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The archdiocese of Chicago's parish restructuring program is shuttering schools and churches as part of its "Renew My Church" campaign, claiming it's meant to spur spiritual growth, when in fact much of the money may be going toward paying off sex abuse settlements.
In Part I, local Catholic mother Andrea Covert explained how her son's former school, Incarnation Catholic School, was closed down despite raising over $150,000 in four months to keep the school open. When the school closed, archdiocesan officials promised to return the money to donors — a legal requirement, since the purpose of the donations never materialized.
Covert claims she has no idea where that money is. And the archdiocese won't answer questions about the money's whereabouts.
In response to multiple queries from Church Militant, spokesman Anne Maselli answered in an email that the archdiocese has "no further comments on the matter."
On Friday, the archdiocese announced that St. Jane de Chantal School — where Covert and her disabled son currently attend — and all the other schools in the Archer Midway West and 290 Corridor groupings would be allowed to remain open. Saint Camillius Parish will be closing this summer.
"There is sadness and trepidation, however, that our pastor will be reassigned," Covert told Church Militant. "A pastor is the backbone of a parish, so it would be nice if he could remain to lead his flock through the merger with St. Camillius."
According to the latest archdiocesan financial report for the Pastoral Center, the sex abuse scandal takes up a large portion of the archdiocese's budget. Sex abuse settlements and the legal defense of the diocese are handled by the Pastoral Center and are included as "insurance" claims. In 2017, the budget for the Pastoral Center listed on their annual report was $132.4 million.
In 2016 and 2017, the Pastoral Center reported it had settled "several legal claims related to allegations of past professional misconduct by priests." It reported that total as $50.8 million in 2017 and $15.1 million in 2016. In 2015, that number was $3.7 million, and in 2014 it was $16.7 million.
All told, between 2014 and 2017, the archdiocese paid out over $86 million to address the sex abuse crisis.
Cupich's predecessor, Cdl. Francis George, pledged not to use one dime of money from the collection plate to pay for sex abuse settlements. Instead, the archdiocese uses the proceeds from the sale of its vast land holdings and investments to fund the claims. The latest figure for the value of real estate held by the archdiocese is around $2.9 billion. The reported net gains for the sale of property went from $2.1 million in 2014 to $25.4 million in 2015 and $15.2 million in 2017.
Since Cupich has been leading the diocese, over $49 million in archdiocesan real estate has been sold. This figure does not include land that is considered investment, as those details are not listed in the annual report.
One of those transactions was the heavily criticized sale of Holy Name Cathedral's parking lot. It was sold to JDL Development for $110 million, and a new high-rise development that will change the Chicago skyline is slated to start construction this year.
Cardinal Blase Cupich has claimed the primary cause of the archdiocese's problems and his main argument for the need for Renew My Church is shrinking demographics as well as a lack of new priests. The archdiocese has been suffering low vocations, Cupich recently announcing that St. Joseph College Seminary of Loyola University is shutting its doors at the end of this academic year owing to low enrollment.
The seminary underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation within the past 10 years. Now that it's closing, its students will be sent to St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The seminary suffered a major scandal a decade ago, when one of its deans, Fr. Daniel McCormack, was accused by at least 23 males of sex abuse. McCormack ended up being arrested and pleading guilty in 2007 of molesting boys, and was sentenced to prison time.
The McCormack scandal cost the Chicago archdiocese millions in legal settlements, the most recent payout taking place in 2015, after three accusers sued the archdiocese for allowing McCormack to remain in ministry after his arrest for sex abuse. The diocese paid the alleged victims $3.15 million.
According to the archdiocese's Office of Strategic Planning and Implementation's data composite from 2017, the estimated Catholic population in Chicago has been on the decline, dropping from around 2.4 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2017. At its peak in 1975, there were almost 2.5 million Catholics.
The number of diocesan priests has also been dropping steadily since the 1980s, when the number of priests exceeded 1,200. Since then, the archdiocese has lost approximately 100 priests every five years. Out of those on the archdiocesan payroll, 181 priests are retired or on sick leave, and nine are inactive. There are 42 extern priests serving in the arcdiocese, mostly from Poland, Mexico and Africa.
Since that time, permanent deacons have stepped into the gap. Between 1975 and 1980, the number of permanent deacons exploded, and there have been between 500 and 600 active deacons in the diocese since 1990, with an additional 73 deacons serving in positions outside the archdiocese.
The archdiocese did not answer what is specifically being done to address the vocations crisis.
The archdiocese's report points to a large number of Chicagoans moving to the suburbs, but it omits addressing the number of Catholics leaving the Faith. In 2015, as Cupich was being installed as the archdiocese's ninth bishop, Chicago Magazine compiled a special report, "Catholics at a Crossroads," to look into why Chicago's Catholics were leaving the Faith.
They found Chicago-area Catholics were leaving Catholicism faster than the rest of the nation. Since 1980, Chicago has seen an eight-percent drop in just the Catholic population, while the rest of the country and the world suffered in total a 1-percent drop. Latino immigration was cited as the key factor why that number wasn't higher.
"In fact, for every 10 Catholics in Chicago, there are now four ex-Catholics," the report noted.
Chicago's poll of 601 current and former Catholics in Cook and Lake counties found the majority of them disagree with the Church's teachings on contraceptives, so-called gay marriage, euthanasia and Holy Communion forbidden for the divorced and civilly remarried. It further showed Catholics overwhelmingly support women's ordination and married clergy, and only 26 percent agree that abortion should be illegal in all cases.
The Chicago Magazine poll asked Catholics an open-ended question as to what they felt was the most important issue they want Catholic leaders to address. The top issue for both practicing and ex-Catholics was the sex abuse crisis.
After the "unification" process of Renew My Church, those parishes that are left are to began a process of evangelization. While Cupich does not specifically mandate which program each parish is to use, the campaign offers a list of resources, with Alpha taking up the primary share. Alpha has been heavily criticized for its Protestant approach.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, international director of Marian Catechist Apostolate, condemned Alpha and forbade members of the apostolate from using it as a catechetical too. Bishop Michael Byrnes, former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, has acknowledged that Alpha lacks "Catholic essentials."
Divine Renovation, another recent evangelistic initiative that suffers from similar criticism, is another resource proposed by the Chicago archdiocese.