The top front-page headline in today's Charlotte Observer: "Charlotte's Catholic Diocese Faces Big Needs, Deep Divisions." The story (by reporter Tim Funk) focuses on growing divisions within the diocese over matters like the refusal of the local cathedral, St. Patrick's, to permit females to serve at the altar (as with altar girls), or over a new campaign to raise millions to expand and refurbish diocesan facilities, or the recent controversy over Sister Jane Dominic Laurel's ill-informed remarks about gay people at Charlotte Catholic high school.
As Funk reports, anger is still simmering among many local Catholics about what Sister Jane Dominic told students and about the way Bishop Peter Jugis handled the concerns of students and parents at Charlotte Catholic. Many local Catholics are also asking why the diocese needs a new sacristy at St. Patrick's in which Jugis may vest for Mass, and a crypt in which the bishops of the diocese can be buried.
Funk cites Alex and Linda Sanchez, local Catholics who belong to St. Peter's parish in Charlotte, and who state in a letter to parish and diocesan offices opposing the plans to expand diocesan buildings with funds supplied by parishioners, "We find it almost impossible to support a diocese that does not seem to heed the message of Pope Francis."
For the diocese, the crypt, new sacristy, and other expansions of diocesan buildings are all about proving that the Charlotte diocese is now a "for-real diocese," as it bursts at the seams with new Catholic families moving to North Carolina from the northeast. Funk quotes diocesan spokesman David Hains on this point: Hains says,
I think what the diocese is trying to say … is that we are a for-real diocese. The Catholics are here to stay and contribute. Edifices and crypts are stamps of continuity in the most important city in the diocese.
I take this to mean that Bishop Jugis wants to mimic the style and forms of a triumphalistic 19th-century immigrant Catholicism, which was particularly strong in the immigrant communities of the northeast during that century. Catholics were a defensive, persecuted minority in the northeast in the 19th century, and it became important to Catholic communities of that time and place to build lavish buildings to rival those of Protestant communities, to show that Catholics had begun to "arrive" as American citizens.
But the questions many critics of Jugis's plans appear to be asking in the Charlotte diocese right now seem to me entirely appropriate: are lavish buildings really what communicate Catholic identity and Catholic presence to the surrounding culture? What's the place for such facilities in the church of Pope Francis?
And — returning to the anger still simmering over the homophobic remarks of Sister Jane Dominic Laurel in Charlotte several weeks back — is the Catholic church really communicating its best values to the public by beating up on targeted minorities and treating women as second-class citizens? Vis-a-vis beating up on targeted minorities: I suspect that not a few local Catholics will not have forgotten Jugis's strong support for the amendment to the North Carolina constitution a few years ago, which outlawed same-sex marriage, though the state already had a law in place doing just that.