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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Outstanding Letter to the Editor

The following article appeared in the Friday, January 23rd edition of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice. I wish I could be this elloquent. Kudos the writer, James W. Lynch.

[My favorite part is in red]


Jan. 24 marks a shameful anniversary for the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Scranton. Bishop Martino’s unjust decision not to allow Catholic lay teachers the right to organize (after he had promised to do so in the diocesan newspaper) will be one year old. I, along with many others, believe such an event points to a much deeper and systemic problem in the diocese.

It’s really not surprising that area churches are closing at a disturbing rate, and that the diocese has recently announced that it has tremendous financial problems. Church membership, once thriving, has fallen to all-time lows. While the easy answer to the question of why this situation has come to pass is demographics, a more accurate analysis points to self-inflicted wounds. Take a look around you when you next attend Mass. Not only are there fewer and fewer heads to be counted, but those same heads are more likely to be gray and bald. Anyone who has attended Mass outside this diocese while on vacation or a business trip will notice a stark difference.

In its response to this downward spiral, the diocese is treating symptoms rather than causes. The sad truth is that the bishop’s behavior has made a bad situation worse. An institution that perverts its own social justice teaching cannot continue to sustain itself in the eyes of its followers.

Unfortunately, Bishop Martino still looks upon his flock from the perspective of a 14th century pulpit. He doesn’t seem to understand (or to care) that the “pay, pray and obey” Catholics in the diocese represent only a sliver of the population of the faithful. He also seems indifferent to the fact that his arrogant, condescending attitude has exacerbated and accelerated the departure of those outside that element.

And there exists no process (forget about appealing to the Vatican in this old boys’ network) to force the Bishop to cease and desist when he tramples on church teaching, or to remove him from office. The hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church is anathema to such necessary change. When the church does address a mistake, it is a dollar short and 400 years late. Consider as an example the church’s recent reversal of Galileo’s excommunication and arrest for stating that the sun was the center of the solar system. Perhaps in the 25th century the diocese will offer Mike Milz (the teachers’ union president fired for his union activity) his teaching position back.

Because it refuses to obey and follow its own dicta, the only method of redress falls to Catholics of conscience. Such people must begin to assert their standing as the church. Haven’t we been told repeatedly that we are the church? God knows parishioners can’t look for help from their parish priests, most of whom admit privately that they disagree with the bishop’s policies, but that they feel powerless and fearful of retribution. Most agree that only the bishop’s departure from Scranton will help resolve most of the diocese’s woes.

However, there is one avenue where the community can immediately right the most despicable of Bishop Martino’s wrongs. Pennsylvania House Bill 26 (which will provide the employees of religiously-affiliated schools the protection of the labor laws) is now before the general assembly for consideration. Visit, phone, write or e-mail your state representatives and senators. Tell them that the bishop does not speak for Catholics in the political realm. They must not mistakenly assume that a vote for HB 26 will cost them votes from the Catholic community. It does not, as the bishop now claims, “cross the line separating church and state.” To the contrary, informed Catholics see the bill for what it really is — a simple extension of basic human rights denied to Catholic lay teachers because of a legal loophole in need of closing. A loophole being exploited by a powerful man who has lost his way.

If the Bishop refuses to do God’s work, God’s people must.

James W. Lynch


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