When he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill proclaimed that, “All politics is local.” Recent events remind us that the same is true of the Catholic Church – “All religion is local.”
March 2011 was a tough month for the Church. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was disgraced by the discovery that it had covered up sex abuse accusations concerning 37 of its priests. The Jesuits of the Oregon Province announced they would pay 133 million dollars to past victims of abuse at their schools for Native-American youngsters. Meanwhile, newly discovered documents revealed that the Jesuits of the Chicago Province had mishandled numerous complaints of repeated sexual abuse by their Father McGuire, who is now in prison. And Chicago’s Cardinal George, who has his own story of mishandling the abuse case of Father Dan Mc Cormack, decided to wield his Episcopal blunderbuss to wound one of his most creative priests (Father Mike Pfleger), one of the nation’s most vibrant African-American parishes (St. Sabina’s) and a legendary Chicago sportswriter (Dan McGrath) who had dedicated his retirement years to salvaging Leo High School on the Southside of the city. Also Church leaders continued their crusade against women priests, gays and lesbians, as well as Democratic politicians.
So that’s some of what was happening on the non-local scene.
Meanwhile, the local manifestation of the Church was doing quite fine on its own, thank you very much. For example, how did some Chicago parishes fill the gap created by their decision to cancel their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade down 103rd Street? It had grown to gargantuan proportions and had been bedeviled by a bevy of drunk and disorderly collegians. But nature abhors a vacuum, so they came up with a St. Baldrick’s Day celebration on March 17. It started with the seventh graders at St. Barnabas school. In seeking to support a classmate who had suffered from cancer since he was in second grade, they discovered St. Baldricks, an organization in California which seeks to fund research on childhood cancer by sponsoring communal head shavings. So the kids mobilized students, families and fellow parishioners who would pledge support for those willing to lose their locks for the cause. You can view the results on You Tube. It was wonderful.
The pastor went first, receiving a mighty cheer as his primal baldness was revealed. Then 120 others followed. Boys and their Dads were shaved. Girls and their Moms had their long tresses shorn. Neighboring parishes joined in with their own events. At the end of the day they had raised $47,000 for the cause. Everyone was so proud of the spirit of generosity and compassion which flowed out into the entire community. And just as we wince, when Church officials on the non-local level besmirch the word, “Catholic”, we can be proud together when we hear about the abundant goodness at the grassroots.
There is hope.