April 17, 2006

Catholics Face a Shifting Flock

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Due to a change in finances within the Cornell Catholic Community, administrators had to eliminate two out of the three chaplain positions. According to Father Dan McMullin and others within the Catholic Community, these losses do not indicate hard times for Catholicism at Cornell.

“In recent years an excess of interest income allowed us to have these staff members,” McMullin said. Interest income, Sunday collections, bi-annual appeals to parents and alumni and additional gifts support the church. The Catholic Church ran a deficit budget in the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

“Since the announcement there has been no fluctuation in church attendance at all,” McMullin said. “We have had more donations this year.”

While the losses do not signal anything more than an attempt to improve the Catholic Church’s budget, they will have personal consequences. Philip Fiadino, one chaplain who will lose his job, said the change will be a tremendous loss personally because he and Theresa Miller, the other chaplain whose job was cut, are involved in two central ministries in the Cornell Catholic Community. Fiadino works with the peace and social justice ministry, Miller with the liturgical one.

According to Fiadino, McMullin organized a new model for leadership in the Church that will include young college graduates. Fiadino said that the new leadership will be “effective but different.”

Kevin Pedraza, director of Souldiers’ Ministry, thinks the staff loss may cause an “increase in student leadership” because the loss “puts more weight on less shoulders.” A primary guideline for all campus ministries is to “form young people for leadership in church,” according to McMullin.

A Diverse Community

Whatever the ultimate effect of the staff cut, the Catholic Church does have a regular group of church-goers – at least 600 per month – and is an ethnically and spiritually diverse community. Fiadino described the Catholic community as comprised of four different groups: those concerned with missionary work; the devotional, those with more traditional piety and spirituality; the faithful, those who attend the Church regularly and support it financially; and the disconnected, those who are distant from the church.

“I did not feel discrimination or not feel welcomed here – it’s not a problem with Cornell,” said Matthew Krueger ’07, who is gay and was raised Catholic. “I couldn’t reconcile with the discrimination in the Church as a whole.”

It has been one and a half months since Krueger has been to church.

According to Krueger, the Church officially teaches tolerance, but it also says that gay people cannot be in consummate relationships, cannot get married and have to remain celibate. “That’s really homophobic,” Krueger said.

One church document says that homosexual inclinations are “intrinsically disordered,” at the same time, the Church also publishes documents that have a more positive perspective on gays, according to McMullin.

“The problem with the Church is that the Church says contradictory things,” McMullin said.

No gay Catholic group exists at Cornell, but a national group, Dignity, supports gay Catholics across the nation. According to Krueger, the group is currently clashing with the church’s policy toward gays.


Representing another side of Catholics at Cornell, Souldiers’ Ministry is a group of approximately 20 students who are “extremely devout” according to Fiadino. Pedraza describes the group as “students personally affected by Jesus Christ who want to bring their faith to other people.” Some of the Souldiers attend church daily; as a group they attend weekly. They have no official status at Cornell or within the Catholic Community at Cornell.

“To be Catholic and to be part of the Church is to participate in the mission of evangelization,” Pedraza said.

“Within Souldiers, we have everyone, from frat guys to jocks and geeks. We show diversity because within the Catholic Church there’s huge diversity,” said Michael Dill ’08, the servant of, or a student leader within, the Souldiers.

The group has evangelized outside fraternity parties and bars, in the North campus dorms and at abortion clinics in Ithaca. While evangelizing, some members of the Souldiers offer passerbys cookies, hot chocolate and quarter cards, and inform them about opportunities for “growing in faith,” such as the Friday night fellowship meetings, according to Dill.

“It’s not a ploy and we don’t want to get in people’s faces,” said Dill of evangelization. “When you find something really good, you want to share it with others, so they can experience it, too.”

According to McMullin, roughly one-fourth of Cornell students are Catholic, another one-fourth are Jewish and the other half are of other faiths.

“Catholics are not visible because it’s not an organization from a cultural standpoint, but a spiritual or religious standpoint,” McMullin said. “Oftentimes Catholics participate in stuff in the University, but it’s not done by acknowledging we’re Catholic.”

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer