Archbishop not a man of his word?
Let me be clear at the outset of this writing that what I am going to say herein is in no way meant as a statement of personal disrespect for the man who has served as my ecclesiastical ordinary (and leader of our local collective Church) from the day I was baptized, nor is it meant in any way to defame the sacred Apostolic Office to which he has been elevated.
With that said, we must note here that Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk has come under criticism from inside and outside the Church for his handling of the clergy abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I have tried to defend His Grace, believing that, at the time these things occurred, he never meant for any children, or anyone else for that matter, to come to any kind of harm. He seems to have gravely mishandled, to the detriment of many children, how he chose to deal with those very few priests who were known to have been abusers. However, like some other prelates, he was acting on the faulty and misleading psychological advice of the time. He should have acted with better judgment, it is true, but the blame cannot be completely laid at his ecclesiastical feet.
Archbishop Pilarczyk seems to have a far more serious problem that threatens his credibility as a leader. He seems to have some difficulty keeping his word. Sources close to the situation have informed me that a very important Church building project may fall through because of the Archbishop’s failure to deliver much-needed matching funds. In this case, it is a project that I have a lot of very personal spiritual interest in.
The Catholic Campus Ministry at Wright State University has served the Catholic student population there for over 33 years. Eleven years ago, the ministry fell on hard times when it was discovered that a priest who had been assigned there had abused a student. In addition to clearly using his ministry post to “hide out,” the priest in question only said Mass at Campus Ministry once a week, and didn’t have any active programs to further contribute to the religious life of the students there.
Clearly, the Church had a real image problem at Wright State. To clean up the mess, the Archbishop sent Father Christian Rohmiller, former pastor of St. Mary’s, Dayton, to a full-time assignment as the Campus Minister at Wright State. Wright State was now one of the few secular universities in both the archdiocese and the State of Ohio to have a full-time priest-pastor as a Catholic Campus Minister. Father Chris got right to work. One of the first things he did was to revitalize the Newman Club at Wright State. Then he set out to start an RCIA program whereby new converts could be instructed in the Catholic faith. He offered marriage preparation for young couples, and even had the students elect a Leadership Council, similar to a Parish Council, to help make decisions that affected the welfare of Catholics on campus. He took students on spiritual retreats, held Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, and Exam Cram parties in a wholesome Church environment, and encouraged many of the young men who he served to join the Knights of Columbus. For the students who were away from their families and homes, Campus Ministry became their Church family.
I was baptized under Father Chris’ ministry. I saw firsthand what an effective pastoral leader he is. When I arrived, he already kept (thanks to the Holy Spirit) the place full on Sundays. When I left, so many young people were coming to Mass that they had to stand in the back of the building and out the door. The little A-frame building was simply too small to hold the people. Father Chris is still running a ministry the size of a small parish out of a building not designed to hold more than 30 people. The last time the Archbishop visited the WSU Catholic Campus Ministry, Mass could not be said in the Newman Center because the number of people attending was too large. A room on campus proper had to be petitioned for instead. The Archbishop finally agreed to let Father Chris begin raising money for a new, much larger chapel to be built on the little plot of land the Archdiocese owns in the middle of the Wright State campus. What’s more, the Archdiocese agreed to match funds. It was estimated that it would take $2 million to build the chapel. That meant that Father Chris had to raise a million dollars. In good faith he has acted. Local businessmen and foundations have contributed large sums of money. The Knights of Columbus have given generously of their time and collective treasure. Students began (when I was there) to participate in a receipt program sponsored by a local grocer, in which the grocer agreed to contribute funds based on the number of grocery receipts the Ministry turned in from students (since we all shopped there at the time, this was an easy way for cash-strapped students to contribute to the effort as well).
Now, Father Chris is nearing the magic number of a million dollars. What does the Archbishop say now? A source close to the situation (not Father Chris) has informed me that His Grace is now saying that he will not contribute Archdiocesan money to the effort, and that he apparently never intended to do so! What’s more, the Archbishop now says that the students at the Newman Center at Wright State ought to consider it a gift from the Archdiocese that he has allowed Father Chris to remain there indefinitely. Father Chris, the students, and the alumni (as well as the many other groups who make use of the tiny building) know that a new facility is needed. People acted believing that the Archdiocese would help in the effort. The Archbishop has apparently not provided a good reason for why he cannot contribute the promised funds.
It would have been one thing if the Archbishop had said from the outset that the Archdiocese could not contribute, or even if he had said this half-way through. Instead, he hedges on his promise as the project almost becomes a reality.
Since Archbishop Pilarczyk apparently does not believe in Campus Ministry enough to help, perhaps someone with the means can be generous enough to keep such a fruitful ministry alive. If someone can help, please be generous and write:
Campus Ministry at WSU Fund #2848
c/o The Dayton Foundation
2300 Kettering Tower
Dayton, Ohio 45423
Perhaps some good can still come out of such an undeserved mess.