Last year, facing an operating deficit of more than $17 million, the archbishop laid off 45 employees at archdiocesan headquarters - 18 percent of the staff - closed the youth office and Hispanic evangelization center, and ended publication of the monthly archdiocesan newspaper. He also sold a Shore house the archdiocese owned and the archbishop's residence at City and Cardinal Avenues.
Though the archdiocese has paid out more than $11.6 million responding to the 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse and weathered the embezzlement of $900,000 by its former chief financial officer, Chaput wrote that the current financial situation had "nothing to do with fraud or the abuse crisis."
"Most of the financial pain we now face as a local Church is inherited and due to chronic patterns of behavior," he wrote. It "flows out of well-intentioned but poor management decisions made over a period of nearly two decades at every level of archdiocesan and parish leadership."
An archdiocesan representative said nobody was available Friday to discuss Chaput's column.
The archdiocese is just one among many Catholic jurisdictions facing tough times. Declining Mass attendance; aging church facilities, especially in the Northeastern United States; and increased labor costs for schools because of the decline in priests, nuns, and brothers have all taken a toll, said Charles Zech, professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University.
But Chaput "inherited a mess," Zech said. "[Cardinal Justin] Rigali and [Cardinal Anthony] Bevilacqua didn't make the kind of hard decisions that need to be made."
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who has written extensively about the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, said in a phone interview Chaput was "willing to make decisions." He sets up committees, listens to their findings, and makes up his mind, said Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter.
Contact Michael D. Schaffer at 215-854-2537 or firstname.lastname@example.org.