News & Views from 465 California Street

Christmas Message

Clint Reilly

After 2000 years, the message of Jesus resonates on Christmas Day 2007 as loudly as ever. I am a Catholic. Confession of sins is a sacrament in the Catholic Church – luckily for me. “Judge not, lest you be judged” is an apt admonition as is Jesus’ famous warning, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The Catholic Church is an institution which has survived twenty centuries in spite of the occasional actions of ecclesiastical ministers whose sins have sometimes undermined the teachings of Christ. In our time, the scandal of priests abusing children has thrown back the curtain on the risks of celibate priesthood, the poor screening of seminary students, outmoded personnel policies and the inadequate supervision of troubled priests. In his book, A PEOPLE ADRIFT, THE CRISIS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA, Peter Steinfels wrote, “The American Catholic Church’s sex scandal of 2002 occurred because terrible things were done to thousands of children and young people. It occurred because many church officials…failed to prevent those crimes and do everything in their power to repair the harm.” The huge financial settlements will neither heal the wounds nor restore credibility.

Nevertheless, The Catholic Church is an irreplaceable force for good in America.

For ten years I was on the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities CYO of Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco Counties. From 2002 until early 2007 I was President of the Board. Across America a network of Catholic Charities agencies (comprised of 240,000 volunteers, staff and board members) serve 7.8 million people regardless of faith every year. These and other church-inspired programs for the poor, seniors, children, immigrants and families are a critical part of our nations’ social services safety net.

Without Catholic healthcare there would be a national emergency. There are more than 600 Catholic hospitals employing 750,000 full and part-time medical workers caring for 5.5 million inpatients, 16.4 million emergency room visitors and 89 million outpatients per year. One in six patients in our country is cared for in a Catholic hospital.

If a strong democracy requires well-educated citizens to survive and thrive, America’s Catholic education systems are certainly helping to form leaders of the future. There are 7,500 Catholic grammar schools and high schools in America educating 2.3 million students each academic year. 97% of Catholic high school graduates attend college. Catholic colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning for Americans of every race, creed or religion. Former President Bill Clinton, a Baptist, graduated from the Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington DC. There are 215 accredited Catholic colleges and universities in the country educating more than 650,000 students yearly.

Here in the Bay Area a remarkable group of Catholic public officials have helped shape the very future young Americans are inheriting. Here are four well known examples. Local Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is the first woman to serve as Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. Jerry Brown, a graduate of San Francisco’s St. Ignatius High School and a former Jesuit seminarian, became a two-term California Governor and is now California’s chief law enforcement officer as Attorney General. His father, Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, greatly expanded highways, schools, universities and state water resources. Former California Speaker and Lieutenant Governor, Leo T. McCarthy, pioneered programs for the aged, and vigilantly defended benefits for the poor. This tradition of public service was generated by a passion for social justice which is a core message of the Catholic faith and Catholic education.

Every Catholic is deeply saddened by the church’s sins. But we are also proud of the indispensable role Catholic institutions, Catholic priests/nuns and Catholic leaders play in American life.

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