Pricey Tickets, Cranky Citizens, and Priests Behind Bars as Philadelphia Prepares For Papal Visit

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now entering the...papal zone.

On the eve of the papal visit, William Penn’s City of brotherly love, Philadelphia, is feeling anything but. With each twist and turn over the long hot summer in the planning for the papal visit, Philadelphia’s citizens have become restless, and their ire has been focused on Mayor Nutter and the Secret Service.

In a hastily put together meeting last week, Donna Crilley Farrell, the executive director of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) announced that the papal events were going to be ticketed—after having already promoted the Papal visit as “free and open” to the public on the conference website. As a result, some hotel rooms are being cancelled, people are angry, and shopkeepers are worried.

It’s not the Philadelphia nativist riots of 1844, but hey…

Don’t worry, if you’re coming to Philly and can’t get a ticket, this picture from my friends at Billy Penn shows just how close you can get to the altar—that dot in the distance in the background is where the altar will be.

Photo by Anna Orso, for Billy Penn

Photo by Anna Orso, for Billy Penn

Yup, stay at home, post up, get your drinks and popcorn, and watch in your jammies.

Much of the confusion and drama lies with the poor messaging of the World Meeting of Families and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Both have managed to make both Catholics and non-Catholics so angry that many will certainly stay away.

What happened? Why has the WMOF and the Archdiocese mangled the messaging of what should be a feel-good, uplifting papal visit? Simple: the Archdiocese is still in disarray from the administrations of Cardinals Rigali and Bevilacqua.

Pope Benedict XXVI knew exactly what he was doing when he announced in June 2012 that Philadelphia would get the 2015 WMOF—the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has suffered from poor management for years and the now-emeritus Pope was trying to get Philly Catholics off life support.

Sex abuse scandals, two grand jury investigations, the imprisonment of a archdiocesan administrator, financial mismanagement, and the closure of Catholic schools have contributed to the decline of an archdiocese that once rivaled Boston or New York.

The same month Pope Benedict announced the next WMOF, Monsignor Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia became the first diocesan administrator convicted in the United States of re-assigning pedophile priests. Lynn was recently incarcerated at Curran Freehold Prison, the prison that Pope Francis will visit in Philadelphia—but the priest was moved at the end of July 2015.

When there is a possibility of the Pope visiting Catholic clergy in the clink, that can’t be good.

On top of it all, the current leader, Archbishop Chaput, has clashed with Philadelphia’s Catholics over parish and school closings and, more recently, with the firing of a gay teacher in a Catholic school not overseen by the diocese of Philadelphia. Chaput, a culture warrior, is on center stage as the Pope and the WMOF come to town.

Of course, Archbishop Chaput has said he welcomes gay families to attend the WMOF, as long as they aren’t “lobbying.” However, a workshop planned by the Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministries, titled “Transforming Love: Exploring Gender identity from Catholic Perspectives,” was cancelled from the WMOF schedule after Archbishop Chaput intervened. Meanwhile, conversion therapy proponents have been invited to speak at the WMOF, and in response Faithful America, delivered a petition of over 19,000 signatures protesting their inclusion.

Chaput’s decisions are in keeping with church teachings, but not with the more forgiving and open tone that Pope Francis is modeling to the church and the world. With the world about to descend on his doorstep, will Bishop Chaput and the Archdiocese be welcoming, or will they allow themselves to continue to shrink into the insularity and disorganization that caused the Philadelphia Archdiocese to decline so precipitously? It remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, faithful Catholics and others who want to see the Pope may be losing heart. 10,000 tickets for the Pope’s Speech at Independence Mall sold out in two minutes on Tuesday, with 394k people trying their best to get a few. Tickets are already being scalped at $100 and up on craigslist.

I didn’t get one, but my citizen journalist dues are current. Stay tuned.