Program #0017 for Thursday, March 31, 2011: Pensions, Libya, Mass. Health Curriculum Frameworks

March 31, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Susan Abbott

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Roger Landry, executive editor of The Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese; and Gregory Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese.

Today’s topics: The Archdiocese of Boston’s lay pension plan; the Pope’s message for suspension of fighting in Libya; teens and abstinence and the new Mass. Health Curriculum Frameworks

A summary of today’s show: Fr. Roger Landry and Gregory Tracy discuss with Scot and Susan Cardinal Sean’s strong statement of support for lay archdiocesan retirees and employees and their pension plan; Pope’s Benedict’s plea for the cessation of fighting in Libya for the sake of the innocent; new statistics showing teens are taking up abstinence because of federal funding that started in the early 2000s; the Church’s challenge to serve immigrants to the US; and then tributes to two men whose professional careers are undergoing a big change.

1st segment: Susan has been working on her budget for the past week for her Office for Religious Education, causing her to pull her hair out. But she’s also excited for Red Sox Opening Day tomorrow and they’ve picked a good year to start the season out of town. She also noticed a slight resemblance between our own Justin Bell and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Scot said many national experts are picking the Red Sox to go to the World Series. He doesn’t know whether that’s encouraging or whether we should be afraid of jinxing the Red Sox. Another exciting event was the blessing of a new statue of St. Patrick at the Pastoral Center, which was a gift of St. Mary parish in Brookline.

If you have questions, email or call or text 617-410-MASS.

2nd segment: Gregory Tracy relates a very exciting event in his family’s life. His oldest daughter, Carmen, received her acceptance letter to Harvard yesterday and more importantly found out that they would receive the aid so she could go. Scot reflected on his own acceptance to Harvard and how he and his brother Fr. Roger were accepted to the school and received enough financial aid to go. Susan’s son also went to Harvard as well. Scot noted that St. Paul in Cambridge is an excellent Catholic community for Catholic students at Harvard. Fr. Roger remembered a Mass for their deceased grandfather in which a relative who had gone to Boston College remarked by joking that it was good he had died before seeing his grandsons go to Harvard and lose their faith. But seriously, Fr. Roger said his experience at Harvard helped prepare him to be a herald of the Good News.

Scot also extended congratulations to Greg and his wife, Donis, for all their own hard work supporting their daughter.

Today’s front page story in the Pilot is Cardinal Sean’s commitment to the Archdiocesan lay pension plan. The Pilot received a strong personal statement from the Cardinal.

Scot said the archdiocesan pension plan is transitioning from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution. The defined-benefit is a promissory note that after retirement you will get X dollars every month until you die. A defined-contribution is a promise to put X dollars into the plan every month while you’re working and what you receive at retirement depends on the fluctuations in the market. Defined-benefit plans have become a huge burden on organizations as markets have suffered and people have been living longer and health costs have risen. The Archdiocese has offered to transition plan participants or to offer them a lump sum payout. A former chancellor of the Archdiocese, David Smith, accused the archdiocese of strong-arming retirees and pension participants into accepting lump sums.

Scot said it is very sad for him to see this plastered on the front page of newspapers locally and nationally. Gregory said it has echoes of the pain of the sex-abuse scandal. He said David Smith said at his press conference that he had heard from many retirees about their concerns for their pensions. As a church plan, it is exempt from many legal requirements and is not guaranteed by the federal government’s regulations. The Cardinal said that they never intended to give the impression that the archdiocese wanted to push people out of the plan.

Scot said the Cardinal’s statement points out that the pension plan has been struggling in recent years. The Cardinal said, “As long as I have breath in me, I will do everything in my power to care for the people who have given themselves in service for the Church.”

Fr. Roger said the statement indicates how deeply involved the cardinal is in the outcome and how wounded he is by the inference that the Church is merely trying to cut corners to achieve an economic bottom line. Instead the Church is a family and it lives by both the rule of charity and of justice. Fr. Roger thinks the Church loses every time we focus too much on the institution and not on the reality that the Church is a family and a body that Christ came to found.

Susan said she has many friends who have been to these meetings concerning these pension plans. It’s a very technical subject and people are uncertain. At a meeting she attended, the plan administrators said that for those who don’t take the lump sum, will they be guaranteed what they were promised and they were told they could not be guaranteed.

Scot said he hopes that the tension caused by this pension plan change comes off the front pages of the newspapers and people can make these important decisions in peace and with full knowledge of the factors involved.

3rd segment: The Holy Father this week appealed for the suspension of fighting in Libya. Fr. Roger said the Pope expressed his fear that the longer that armed conflict goes on the more innocent people will suffer. In his appeal he said that even the weakest signal of an openness to diplomacy should be responded to positively to end the violence. Even if there is no intention on the part of the NATO coalition to injure civilians, innocent people are inevitably hurt in any armed conflict of this size.

Scot asked why the Holy Father’s statement is news, since everyone expects him to say this. Gregory said it’s because the Holy Father is a moral voice for the world. There’s a related statement by the US bishops weighing in on the moral issues, without telling civil leaders what to do, allowing for their prudential judgments. They speak out on behalf of the innocent, to make the moral voice heard. Vatican officials said they were confused by the haste at which these military operations were undertaken.

4th segment: The Centers for Disease Control report that 43% of teenagers 15-19 are remaining abstinent, up from 35% in the early 2000s. Fr. Roger said we need to proclaim this news from the rooftops to encourage teens who feel like they are alone in making this choice. The CDC stats show that this is led by a disproportionately large change among teen girls. These figures correspond with Bush-era abstinence education programs promoted by his administration. Unfortunately, abstinence-only education has been cut by the Obama administration, which could lead to a rollback of these advances.

Planned Parenthood programs in schools used to get 4 times the funding of abstinence education programs, but now they get 16 timers the amount.

The Office of Religious Education works with the Pro-Life Office on chastity education programs for children in religious education programs and Catholic schools. There are many well-trained educators now as well.

While the federal government provides abstinence education funds, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick refuses to take it. Scot said it’s offensive to him as a parent and taxpayer. Gregory agrees with Scot’s outrage. He said failure to fund abstinence education fails to take into account the psychological effects of early sexual activity, but only looks at the physical and economic consequences. Scot said one of the reasons it offends him is that nationally twice as many parents support abstinence-only education in schools over Planned Parenthood programs.

The Massachusetts bishops have produced information for parents on the Massachusetts Health Curriculum, letting them know that the parents can opt out their children from sex ed classes. Susan said some of the issues in the proposed frameworks for health curriculum in Massachusetts include information on how to procure an abortion and acceptance of homosexuality, among other issues that are morally troublesome. Susan said her office is distributing 35,000 of the brochures through parish religious education programs.

Scot said that parents are the primary educators of their children and without these information they might not know what their children are being taught. Susan said taxpayers should also be upset that their money is going to fund these frameworks that undermine parental responsibility.

Fr. Roger said his own parish either handed the brochures directly to parents or mailed them to their homes. He said most parents were very surprised what was being taught to very young children in these state curricula. Many parents are getting involved. Right now the frameworks are just recommendations for school districts, but there are attempts to make them mandatory.

For anyone who wants a copy of the frameworks, they can be downloaded from our website or at the Mass. Catholic Conference website.

The Pilot also has an article this week on the changing demographics in America due to immigration and a discussion recently in Washington DC on the change it presages for the Church. Hispanics in general are 16% of the population in the country, but 25% of people under 25 are Hispanic. So the Church has to embrace these young people now or they will drift away to secularism or to any number of Pentecostal churches.

Scot recalled that when the Archdiocese closed many parishes in 2004, many were originally built in the 19th and 20th century to serve particular immigrant groups and, in a way, it shows the Church did a good job of assimilating them such that the different ethnic parishes were not needed any more, at least for their original purpose of providing a faith community in exclusive to their original languages and cultures.

Fr. Roger said New Bedford is 23% Hispanic, up from 15% a decade ago. That’s only those who were officially counted. There are many illegals. He said his food pantry at his parish, St. Anthony, feeds many poor people from Central and South America. The Church needs to help not just their physical needs, but also their spiritual needs. In their home countries, they often only had Masses once or twice per year in their small villages, and so they are not in the habit of going to Mass regularly. It affects Mass attendance, but also all the sacraments. He said this is an indicator of the need for the Church to get its act together to help them become strong Catholics now and for the next generation.

At the diocesan level, Scot said, we’re trying to be responsive to growing immigrant populations as well. Susan said she has someone in her office just serving Hispanic Catholics. They have a program to train leaders in parishes in ministry and catechesis. When they offer a workshop they will get many, many people signing up. They are also very concerned about the prevalence of storefront churches taking away many Catholics. And they are working with other communities, including Brazilians, Haitians, Vietnamese and others.

5th segment: Scot notes that today is the 66th birthday of his father, Roger Sr. After 50 years of work, he is retiring today. He is a great father who taught his children a tremendous work ethic. Congratulations to his father. Fr. Roger remembers when he was ordained a priest and in his thanks at the time, he said his father has St. Joseph’s face. He learned more about being a priest from his father than from anyone else, because the priesthood is a vocation of love and hard work and he’s never seen anyone work harder or love more.

Now joining Scot and Susan in the studio is John Irwin. Four years ago, Scot hired him to work with the Catholic Appeal and later he moved to work to raise financial support for the health and retirement needs of priests of the archdiocese. John had a love for the Church and wanted to serve the Church. Because of a reorganization, John’s job has been eliminated and tomorrow is his last day. Scot said John is one of the finest people he’s worked with in the Pastoral Center. John said his work with the priests of the archdiocese has been rewarding and encourages people to visit the retired priests at Regina Cleri.

Scot asked John to reflect on working in the Pastoral Center. He said it’s a tremendous place to work, to go to Mass every day, to say the rosary every day, in the place where you work. There’s a tremendous amount of joy and positive energy from the people who work here.

Scot said John holds the record of giving the most tours of the Pastoral Center. Scot thanks him for his four years of service and said we will pray for him as he looks for the next phase of his professional life.

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