Notes From Baltimore All Souls' Day
The Catholic Church in Baltimore is struggling, with low attendance and financial difficulties leading to bankruptcy and church closures. The city itself is also facing high crime rates and a decline in safety. The situation reflects a larger trend of societal decay and a sense of uncertainty.
On a chilly All Souls' Day morning in northern Maryland, the arrival of snow flurries marked the end of an unusually warm period along the Mason-Dixon line. As the weather changed, families in the area had to retrieve their sweatshirts and coats to prepare for the obligatory Mass in Baltimore.
St. Alphonsus, the only church in the archdiocese that consistently held traditional Masses, was previously the city's Lithuanian parish. However, there are no longer any Lithuanians residing in Baltimore, and the neighborhood has changed. Therefore, the archbishop gladly handed over the church, a grand decaying neogothic structure that was once St. John Neumann's parish, to one of the traditionalist groups, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Similarly, the Dominicans made a deal for Sts. Philip and James near Johns Hopkins University, securing additional concessions from the archdiocese, such as control over the campus ministry at Hopkins.
The Catholic Church in Baltimore is facing a decline. Despite having churches with a seating capacity of 45,000, the weekly attendance is below 2,000. The archdiocese has filed for bankruptcy to avoid potential liabilities from abuse lawsuits. Consequently, services and properties are being transferred to solvent groups that can take advantage of the situation.
While driving towards the church on Pleasant Street, I noticed the arrival of scooter shares on Baltimore's sidewalks. Despite being known for its high robbery rate, the city seems unconcerned about the potential loss of these scooters. This situation highlights the concept of anarcho-tyranny, where disorder is tolerated while excessive control is exerted in other areas.
Baltimore leans more towards anarchy than tyranny. With the second-highest homicide rate in the country, the city is more dangerous than Port-au-Prince and Johannesburg. Last year, some St. Alphonsus parishioners considered discontinuing their weekly visits to the city after a squeegee boy shot a motorist at an intersection. Although the motorist had exited his car to threaten the squeegee boy with a baseball bat, this incident raised concerns about the overall safety in Baltimore.
The response from city officials was disheartening. The mayor suggested that the squeegee boys, who are breaking the law, establish their own "code of conduct" and receive financial support from the city to stop threatening drivers. According to the mayor's plan, if they demonstrate their intention to leave the squeegeeing life behind, they can receive a monthly payment of $250 from taxpayers. In return, the police will enforce traffic laws and prevent harassment in six designated zones.
During the homily, Father discussed indulgences and mentioned the nearest cemetery where one could earn them for the souls in purgatory, located at the Edgar Allan Poe House. However, he advised against walking through the surrounding neighborhood due to its reputation for car burglaries. Instead, parishioners stayed within the church's block, where security and the presence of a prosperous dispensary, "Trufflez," ensured a relatively safe environment.
Some pessimistic left-wing critics argue that we are entering an era of "neofeudalism," where the structures of liberal capitalism will crumble into a less dynamic system. While this perspective may seem exaggerated, there is an underlying sense of something unusual in the air as you leave the deteriorating church, controlled by a morally corrupt hierarchy, and navigate the streets where the secular state is not the sole authority. As your priest warns you about potential bandits on your way to earn indulgences for the suffering departed, it's hard not to sense an eerie atmosphere. Perhaps more snow is on its way.