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Separate CYO Teams In Merged Schools Is Disastrous

Archbishop Chaput, Where Are You?
It was a picture perfect day for football.
The two teams squared off, and then it happened. A lofty kick followed by a mad rush to crush the hapless receiver. Mission accomplished – and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Was it a legitimate play, or a calculated cheap shot?  Depends for whom you were cheering, or, more accurately, for what team your son played. Notice I didn’t say for what school.  Why?  Because despite two completely distinct teams, the players attend the same Catholic grade school.  To say there is bad blood between sides --- coaches, players and parents --- would be a gross understatement.
How is that possible? How can classmates during the week, who become mortal enemies on the weekends, ever unify?
In a move that defies common sense, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Chaput, continues to allow schools affected by closings to maintain separate Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) teams.
So much for the goal of unifying the merged schools into a tight-knit community. As long as His Excellency’s policy remains based on “separate,” there will never be “equal” at these schools.
Instead, two things occur. First, parents, often alums themselves, get sucked into the whirlwind where traditional rivalries give way to all-out animosity, predictably leading to arguments so intense that physical confrontations are inevitable.
Second, and counter to saving Catholic education, is the spectacle of parents pulling their children from regional schools. Some may go to another Catholic school (if they’re lucky enough to receive permission, which is insane since the Church has so strongly advocated school choice). But many are so fed up that they yank their children (current and future) from Catholic schools. To them, the price of admission isn’t worth it.
Not only is that exodus the death knell for a Church that has seen so large a percentage of its flock bolt (30 million ex-Catholics would constitute the nation’s third-largest faith), but it’s bad for taxpayers, who foot the $17,000 per student annual cost for each addition to public schools.
And yet, had there been any foresight, this monumental problem wouldn’t exist.  But Archbishop Chaput refuses to address it, ostensibly viewing it as a CYO issue when it is infinitely more.
Nowhere is it more out-of-hand than Cardinal Foley regional school in Havertown (formerly St. Denis), and where most students from now-shuttered Annunciation B.V.M. also attend.
The once-friendly “us versus them” atmosphere has taken on a whole new aura, with some Denis parents still referring to Foley as “their school” while Annunciation parents struggle with the transition, trying to assimilate while maintaining their identity. It is an impossible task given the lack of direction from the top. This division was on full display in the first year, when most Annunciation parents bought new Foley uniforms while many St. Denis parents retained their old ones.  That’s not a slight to either side, but a criticism of the Archdiocese to allow such an option in the first place.
Making the situation worse for the children (yes, the forgotten ones) in this debacle is that the various factions have now created three teams within the school. Now, there is also a Cardinal Foley team for certain sports.  It’s tough enough to go through a traumatic school closing and merger, but to confuse students and further split their loyalties by having three teams is ridiculous.
But that’s not all. Students still make their sacraments separately at their respective parishes. With such chaos, is it any wonder why the local Church is in free-fall?
If the Archbishop doesn’t want more implosions, it might behoove him to consider some reasonable suggestions:
1) Do not take the approach that CYO issues are below the Archbishop, because A) you already got involved by lifting the ban on girls playing CYO football, and B) this isn’t about CYO, but unification.  Mandate each school have one athletic program. If there is an abundance of kids, make several teams.  But students trash-talking classmates all week in the same school, culminating in the desire to smash each other at game-time, is a recipe for enrollment hemorrhaging, and worse.
2) Ditto for sacraments. One school, one student body --- for everything, but most especially those things that are uniquely Catholic. Otherwise, what’s the point?
3) Don’t play the “I’m from out-of-town” card. That doesn’t cut it. In the same way a new CEO learns a different industry, any incoming Archbishop should have understood Philadelphia’s unique Catholic culture (where people identify themselves not by town, but parish) before making the school closing decisions, and realized how such intense loyalties would affect the merged schools.  
4) Understand that the most effective mergers are hostile takeovers, where the CEO rules with an iron hand to facilitate a seamless transition for unification.  Not all may agree with some decisions, but they will fall in line, so long as you give them a reason to stay.
5) Since the handling of the school closings/appeal process still irks many, it would benefit the Archbishop to act quickly, before a fistfight between Catholic school parents ends up on the national news.  Such an event wouldn’t bode well for advancement to Cardinal.
For the first time in a long while, many Catholics are believing again, their faith renewed by the new Pope. Francis has been a refreshing voice of reason and compassion, communicated in an unprecedented down-to-earth manner. That humbleness, combined with an aggressiveness in shaking things up, has led to a Catholic resurgence.
It would be a cardinal sin if that enthusiasm didn’t carry over to the nation’s most storied diocese for lack of a pontiff-like vision.
Archbishop Chaput, you’re still-loyal flock is waiting. For now.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at

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