Francis effect? Wait till next year

Written by Peter Smith on .

ocd 2014The annual Catholic statistics are in -- but only for the year 2012. So we still don't know if there's a "Francis effect," according to Mark Gray at research central for all things Catholic in this country -- the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

He reviews the latest data in "The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini 2014," which also landed on my desk with a thud in recent days. (The book may be sturdier.) It includes comprehensive stats on membership, sacramental participation and other spiritual vital signs, submitted by parishes in 2013, when Francis was elected pope amid much anecdotage about his populist manner prompting people to return to church after long absences. But the stats submitted by parishes are from 2012, in the last days of the Benedict XVI era.

But what can we learn from these stats?

In Pittsburgh, most of these numbers are flat or down from the 2013 report. Numbers of Catholics (634,910), infant baptisms (4,818) and confirmations (3,005) are about equal to the year before. But significant declines happened in first communions (5,442, down 10 percent) and church marriages (1,786, down 7 percent), and given the relatively elderly population overall, it's notable that there were 2 percent fewer church funerals (7,453) than the year before. 

Such numbers are hardly surprising for an older, urban diocese in the North or Midwest.

Statistician Gray, taking the national look, says church growth in the Sunbelt, particularly fueled by immigration, has boosted Catholic numbers since the year 2000. The ranks of Catholics overall are up nationally whether measured by parish registration, self-identification or even weekly Mass attendance, which is up by 2.6 million this century.

At the same time, other sacramental participation from birth to death is declining -- baptisms, marriage, etc. Partly, Mr. Gray writes, that could have to do with Catholic immigrants arriving having experienced some sacraments in their homelands.

Elementary Catholic school enrollment, historically a prime force in forming young Catholics, is down, although Catholic college enrollment is soaring. 

Also, numbers are up for men studying for and being ordained to the priesthood -- just not nearly enough to make up for the departures of older priests to death and retirement.

Deacons and lay ministers are increasing, while religious brothers and sisters are declining.

This good news, bad news mix is a national phenomenon. Locally, virtually all numbers are down from early this century.

By the time Francis shows up in Philadelphia next year, as is expected, we'll know whether his early papacy had any immediate effect -- and by that time we'll be wondering whether it's had an enduring effect. But as we close the books on the Benedict era, it's worth remembering that even a charismatic pope can't overcome vast demographic forces such as birthrates and immigration.


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Wave of the future: driving on the left side

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

PennDOT District 12, which includes Washington County, is providing a glimpse of the future with a video depicting a modern interchange where through traffic actually uses the left side of the road. This interchange will be built at the junction of Interstate 70 and Route 19 in South Strabane and is scheduled to open in 2017. If you aren’t familiar with a diverging diamond interchange, this video is well worth a work.


Oil-bearing railroad tankers are “the Ford Pinto of the rails,” according to the city council president of Spokane, Wash. Two environmental groups on Tuesday filed a petition asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to ban the older tankers, saying they pose a risk for ruptures and explosions. The tankers in question make regular trips through Pittsburgh, passing Station Square and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The AP reports on the ban request at


Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the oil industry and railroads are offering a three-year plan to phase out the oil tankers. See the story at


The U.S. House passes a stopgap measure on Tuesday to keep federal highway and transit funds flowing to the states into next spring. U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, who voted in favor, has this to say:

“Highways are a critical channel of commerce. They bring raw materials to manufacturers and finished products to market. The way the federal government currently funds transportation programs is fundamentally broken. The legislation we passed today is a stopgap measure that ensures work will continue on important infrastructure projects.  The House and Senate should use this opportunity to work together and find a long-term sustainable solution to reform federal surface transportation programs.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., take a dimmer view.


“Sadly, the House has kicked the can down the road and has decided to shirk its responsibility to fix the Highway Trust Fund in this Congress. They have failed to send a message of certainty and confidence to the thousands of businesses and millions of workers who have asked us to act this year on a long-term solution for transportation.”


“American infrastructure, which used to be the best in the world and a point of pride bringing Americans together, is now a source of embarrassment and deep concern as we fall further and further behind other global leaders. We are here with a questionable short-term fix because this Congress has refused to address its responsibility to fund our transportation infrastructure system.

“Congress shouldn’t duck its responsibilities, but should pass a 6-year plan and its funding into law this year. We shouldn’t recess until we give the American people the transportation system they need and deserve to strengthen the economy, create hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs, and improve transportation for families across the nation.

“Ducking our responsibility today harms us all in the long run. Mark my words; next May we’re just going to be back here again, debating the same issue, but deeper in the hole with a steeper climb out.”


menatworkCatching up on the road work, the outbound Liberty Tunnel is closed around the clock for painting, with reopening scheduled for 6 a.m. July 28. A handy guide to possible detours is here. Add to the list the Wabash Tunnel, which has no HOV requirement and is open outbound from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays.

The Route 51-88 construction site in Overbrook has new traffic patterns that will stay in effect through the end of the year. Left-turn traffic from Route 88 to Route 51 has been shaved to one lane; right-turn traffic from southbound Route 51 to Route 88 has no dedicated turn lane and must proceed to the traffic light before turning; northbound Route 51 traffic, including those who want to go left at Route 88, has been shifted to the jug handle that wraps around the Rite Aid pharmacy.

A new traffic pattern is in effect in the construction zone on Route 51 in Jefferson Hills. Traffic is shifted into a single lane in both directions between Worthington Road and the Elizabeth Bridge, continuing into mid-September. The $5.8 million project includes milling and resurfacing 4.3 miles of Route 51 between the Elizabeth Bridge and Coal Valley Road. Overall work will conclude in December, PennDOT said.

The ramp from Route 65 to southbound I-79 and the ramp from northbound I-79 to Route 65 in Glenfield are closed until further notice as PennDOT repairs damage from a truck hitting an overpass.

Pavement markings will be installed along the entire length of I-79 in Allegheny County next week. Work will occur after 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and cause temporary, slow-moving lane closures. Work wraps by 6 a.m. daily.

Old Steubenville Pike in North Fayette was to close today for removal and replacement of the deck on the bridge over Route 22/30. At 7 a.m., the road was scheduled to close between Stonesipher and Barmack roads and traffic will be detoured. The closure is scheduled to continue into November. The work is part of a milling and resurfacing project on Route 60 and Route 22/30 that is expected to continue into June 2015.

New stop signs are being installed this week for Federal Street traffic approaching the Henderson Street intersection on the North Side.

Westbound Route 30 in North Huntingdon will be restricted to a single lane of traffic overnight today and Thursday and again this weekend. The restriction will occur from Arona Road to the Pennsylvania Turnpike on-ramp from 7 p.m. today and Thursday to 5 a.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 7 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. A contractor will repair a slide and stabilize the hillside next to the road.

East Hardies Road in Hampton is scheduled to close from 8 p.m. Friday through 5 a.m. Monday between Route 8 and Ranalli Drive for paving.

Montour Run Road and Beaver Grade Road in Moon and Robinson will have alternating one-way traffic from the Montour Trail overpass to a point 700 feet west of the Beaver Grade Road intersection during paving from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Perry Highway will see traffic disruptions during overnight joint repairs after 9 p.m. Friday. Short-term, slow moving lane closures will occur through 6 a.m. Saturday from Longvue Avenue in McCandless to Bonnie View Drive in Pine.

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Columbus police dance to Katy Perry song

Written by Liz Navratil on .

Part of the fun of covering crime in Pittsburgh is following what happens in other cities. Occasionally, that means you come across a gem like this one from the Columbus Police Department in Ohio. Happy Monday everyone.



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Cyclists gaining ground breeds hostility

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Here‘‍s an interesting bit of paradox and reversal in the same idea: 

Bicycling commuters are not the outliers they used to be, and this progress in becoming part of the transportation weave may account for the hostility cyclists face from drivers -- a success phenomenon described in today‘‍s Atlantic CityLab by Eric Jaffe.

“Driver rants against cyclists are of course nothing new,” he writes. “It's been pointed out in this space before, most skillfully by Sarah Goodyear last year, that cycling haters are actually a sign of cycling success. As major American cities embrace multimodal transportation and balanced mobility networks, cycling has shifted from an outsider enterprise to the mainstream. That shift, in turn, has produced a new psychological strain for drivers accustomed to the belief they own the road.”

The article has several excellent links to other articles, and I appreciate the point they all make as generally spot on, but.....
As I drove up the Boulevard of the Allies yesterday on assignment, a bicyclists in front of me wove from my lane to the parking lane, making me nervous. I rarely mind slowing down and staying behind them if I'm not running late for something, but this was a matter of having to second guess his direction and intentions.
It's not always that car drivers feel they should own the road. Some of us, when we do drive cars, have a heightened awareness that we indeed do not own the road. That road is now open to more people who are vulnerable to the dangers of automobiles and that makes driving a car a more stressful experience -- especially for a driver who is empathetic, sympathetic and on the side of bicyclists in traffic.
Hitting someone would be no less painful in some ways than being hit.
For this reason, it is ever more important that as more cyclists use our streets to get around, more of our streets need absolutely protected bike lanes.


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City to consider new site for off-leash dog park in Mount Washington

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .



An acre of Olympia Park along Virginia Avenue and Hallock Street will not continue to be Mount Washington‘‍s off-leash dog park once a new site can be developed, possibly behind the park, near trails of Emerald View Park.

Mayor Bill Peduto’‍s office issued a notice that a compromise site will be worked out, with no specific details as yet.

The dog park was established two years ago with advocacy from about a dozen dog owners. It quickly had opposition from nearby neighbors who said they were not consulted.

Nearby resident Robert Ariass, who has lived on Hallock for 13 years, said his beef is not that there is an off-leash exercise area but that the site is too near to homes and that those residents could have been contacted.

“We never had a chance to talk about this,” he said. “Now the city wants to take away what should not have been established in the first place.”

Most off-leash dog parks are either in remote areas, such as the South Side‘‍s, Lawrenceville’‍s and in Riverview Park. An off-leash area that is not fenced in Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side is not remote but there no residents within 50 yards of it.

Mr. Ariass said barking in the evening prevents him from having a peaceful summer evening meal on his back porch.

But dog-park denizens say the site is perfect, with a slope that drains so that there is no mud, and that commotion is not as common as detractors say it is.

“People had been using this area before” a fence was installed, said Emily Matthews, a regular visitor with her dog, Thurston, a lab-pit mix.

If the park is moved to the wooded area where trails are, she said, dogs will be exposed to broken glass and ticks. “The trail area may not be accessible to older people, too,” she said.

“Everybody who uses it loves this dog park,” said Matthew Sill, Thurston's other half. “But the mayor is a cool guy, so he‘‍ll probably come up with something good.”

“I moved to Mount Washington to be near a park,” said Brandon Allen, who was in the park today with Emily and Matthew, their Thurston and his German shepherd Kila. “If they move it a couple hundred yards away, I understand. But there’‍s more noise from the baseball field than from these dogs.”

The mayor‘‍s office noted that its goal is “to provide an off-leash area... that is set far enough away from residential properties to limit impacts on neighbors.”

Public Works will be studying possible sites, during which time the city will honor the current dog park’‍s confines.

Photo of Emily Matthews, left, Brandon Allen, center, and Matthew Sill, with dogs Thurston, left and Kila.



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