In his Jan. 9 interview with reporter John Pope of The Times-Picayune, Archbishop Alfred Hughes referred to the church closings and the subsequent police action as a challenge of "the cross of leadership." The analogy to the cross is a common one, especially appropriate for a bishop, but "who is carrying which cross?" is a question for discussion. Certainly the notion of a leader having to conduct unsavory business for the common good is an ancient one. Even before his actions would make the cross an eternal symbol, Pontius Pilate himself went through a similar debate – having to order a forceful civil action but justifying it by what he perceived to be a greater good.
I do not mean to equate the Bishop with Pilate, but nor should Hughes be conceded the cross exclusively – there are many crosses to go around in this saga especially among the parishioners who have given so much of their own time to save the churches that were part of their lives.
In his interview Hughes spoke of the complaint that he has not listened to the pleas of the parishioners. Arguing that he found it difficult to imagine a process in which he could have listed more he added, "but if ‘listening’ means that ‘you have not accepted my preference or my point of view,’ than I guess I have not listened."
Surely there is a middle ground between giving in and outright rejection. During the days before the police action some parishioners were excitedly working with the pastor at St. Stephen’s church to find a compromise. The parishioners were willing to concede much and asked only for occasional services at their beloved churches. Apparently no one with authority in the archdiocese was listening.
On a personal note, I too live in a parish that was closed. Sacred Heart Church on Canal Street never made it back after Hurricane Katrina and the parish was merged with St. Anthony church, also on Canal Street. People who were loyal to the old parish were saddened and hoped that it could return, but ultimately they knew that the parish had been losing its people, even before the storm. The merger made sense.
What happened Uptown did not. Two parishes that were financially solvent and with active congregations were ordered to be "suppressed." It is a true sign of the parishioners’ faith that they have fought so hard.
If only the Bishop would regard himself less as the cross-bearer and more as the healer. Open the door and let some light in. Resurrections can provide happy endings.
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