Father's Day does not arrive for another couple of weeks -- June 19, to be precise -- but for new dads who work for the Archdiocese of Chicago, a gift will arrive on July 1.
That’s when the archdiocese begins a new policy granting 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents. That includes fathers as well as mothers.
There is much to applaud about this. Let’s face it, being a parent is tough enough -- I know because I have four children myself -- but balancing work and family is particularly difficult, as is trying to figure out how all of those bills are going to be paid.
And yet, the other response I can’t help but have to a story like this is…what in God’s name took so long?
As numerous Catholic observers in Chicago noted, this policy is simply an extension of the church’s own teachings on family.
In his much-discussed apostolic document “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis noted, “At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”
One of those “concrete situations” Francis was presumably talking about was just how difficult it can be to raise a family in the 21st century. And not difficult in the emotional sense. Difficult in the financial sense.
The Chicago policy is certainly a step in the right direction.
As another Chicago Archdiocese official, Father Peter Wojcik, put it, “It’s hard to have a relationship as a family if you have to go back to work right after having a small child. Or if as a father you cannot be part of this because you can’t afford to take unpaid leave and don’t have a lot of time off.
“I think it’s a practical way of saying yes, the families are at the center of the church, the church is built on the families and families need time to be with each other and accompany each other.”
The new policy is the culmination of a proposal set forth by Archbishop Blase Cupich, who has said he has come to see the importance of family issues, especially since he attended the recent Synod on the family at the Vatican.
So, yes, kudos to Chicago Catholics.
But now the bad news.
Wojcik was also quoted in America magazine as saying that few other U.S. dioceses offer a package to new parents similar to Chicago’s. In other words, while one city has gone a long way towards, if you will, practicing what it preaches, a whole bunch of other Catholic staff members will continue to struggle to balance work and family.
And of course, this is not merely a Catholic problem, but an American one.
And, interestingly, an Irish one as well.
This is apparently one dubious thing the U.S. and Ireland have in common.
A Sinn Fein lawmaker, Louise O’Reilly, recently charged that “Ireland lags far behind other member states in the EU when it comes to maternity leave, paternity leave and parental leave,” according to a report on businessworld.ie.
But to put that into perspective, O’Reilly was referring to Ireland’s 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, which is more than double what workers for the Chicago Archdiocese just got -- and a whole lot more that most Americans workers get.
True, things are changing in this realm. New York just became the fifth state (along with California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington) to pass a paid leave law for new parents.
And both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are talking about proposing such a law at the federal level, which will surely be blasted by anti-government conservative Republicans.
It is interesting that so much rage in the political arena is being expended on hot-button topics like trade and transgender people using bathrooms. But perhaps it is more mundane things -- like who the heck is caring for my child, whether he is four months or four years old -- that are actually stressing families to the breaking point.
New York and the Archdiocese of Chicago just made things a little easier. Who’s next?