Retired Detroit Free Press sports writer Mick McCabe wrote in a May 16 article, “The Archdiocese of Detroit has declared war on athletics, and I don’t get it." 

I’m afraid that on this issue it appears McCabe doesn’t get it. As a Detroit priest and a former Catholic Youth Organization player and coach, I am certain that this "war" is a figment of McCabe's imagination. 

McCabe is a legend in local athletics, and rightly so. He spent his career serving our community and student-athletes with dedication and distinction. Yet his article on Archbishop Vigneron’s decision to cease holding athletic events on Sundays, announced in his recent Pastoral Note The Day of the Lord, smacks more of a "hot take" than of a well-reasoned opinion.

Every person is entitled to his own feelings, but in this case McCabe's feelings obscure the truth. His article relies heavily on incendiary language, from his declaration that there is a "war" on athletics being waged by the Archdiocese to the use of insult supposedly cloaked by "respect."  Early on, McCabe writes of the decision to keep Sunday free of organized sports, "With all due respect: This is idiotic." One wonders what McCabe might say if he chose to be disrespectful!

McCabe also makes several consequential assertions without offering supporting arguments or data. For example, he expresses no doubt that eliminating Sunday sports will fail to increase Mass attendance, that families will not use the extra time to read Scripture, and that this decision will be "devastating" to participating schools. Yet each of McCabe's conclusions is untested and open to debate.

Then there are two glaring omissions, or at least partial omissions, in McCabe's article. First, he gives very little attention to the deeper point of Archbishop Vigneron's pastoral note, that it is vitally important for Catholics to reclaim Sunday as the Lord's Day and to rededicate Sunday to its own proper activities, including worship at Mass, appropriate rest, recreation, works of mercy, and family life. Secondly, McCabe gives no credit to the Catholic Church for being one of the most dedicated, invested, and active promoters of athletics in existence, when considered among those organizations that are not exclusively dedicated to sports.

There is room for reasonable and charitable debate about how best to honor the Lord's Day and to promote athletics, but unfortunately McCabe's article does more harm than good to this cause.

Perhaps responding to one critical article does not seem very important. But the general view of McCabe’s article is likely to be shared by many Catholics and non-Catholics, alike. And this is an occasion for all of us to remember a few basic “rules of engagement”:

  • God calls us to love those with whom we disagree, and part of love includes expressing ourselves with genuine respect and in a way that gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. 
  • We need to recognize that our efforts to unleash the Gospel will necessarily involve bold and sometimes difficult decisions. Our rededication of Sundays to the Lord is rooted in the Synod ‘16’s aim to help all of us grow closer to Christ as we strive to bring others closer to Him and His Church. But if you find the logic of this decision less clear, spend some time praying and thinking about why the Archbishop made this decision before expressing critical opinions. Begin by reading The Day of the Lord.
  • Every family has to do what is good for the whole family, and the Archdiocese of Detroit is no different. There are many individual Catholics who truly experience the richness of community and family life by engaging in sporting events on Sunday, but we need to recognize that there are also many people with a different and more negative experience of Sunday sports. To take just one example, families with a number of children are often pulled apart as they need to be at different games in different parts of Metro Detroit on a given Sunday. And the general decline in reverence for Sunday as the Lord’s Day is undeniable. We are trying a new approach in order to bring a renewed sense of reverence and dedication to the Lord and each other.

May God bless all of us and help us to dedicate ourselves to Him with all that we think, say, and do. May it all be for His glory!

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.