Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas is reasserting the church's claim to the Lord's Day — at least to Sunday mornings — and extending it to Wednesday evenings as well.
In a recent column in the Catholic Voice, the diocesan newspaper, Lucas wrote that parishes should not schedule sports activities — games or practices — until after the last Sunday morning Mass. Nor, he wrote, should they schedule sports or youth activities during times when religion classes are being held, typically on Wednesday nights.
Deacon Tim McNeil, the Omaha archdiocese's chancellor, said the Sunday policy has been on the books since 2006.
The archbishop, however, felt it was important to remind pastors, athletic directors and school personnel about the policy, McNeil said.
Lucas also has extended the policy to cover Wednesday evenings in order to allow Catholic high school students to participate in church-sponsored religious education and youth programs, McNeil said. He'll ask Catholic high schools not to hold sports events or major extracurricular activities on that night.
"It's the archbishop reminding the parents and children that the focus of your Sunday should be your worship time," McNeil said. "And nothing should stand in the way of you realizing the fruits of Sunday worship."
The Lincoln and Grand Island Dioceses have similar policies.
The Diocese of Des Moines does not have such a policy, said Bishop Richard Pates, who called it a "wise policy." His diocese will examine the Omaha Archdiocese's policy and consider adopting it, he said.
Meanwhile, the diocese has taken a step in that direction. It is changing the age for young people to receive the sacrament of confirmation, raising it from, typically, the eighth grade to 10th or 11th grade. Because of that, St. Albert High School in Council Bluffs and Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines are not scheduling activities on Wednesday afternoons and evenings, to allow students to be in their parishes for religious education in preparation for that sacrament.
Joe Connolly, president of the St. Albert Schools in Council Bluffs, said without a formal policy in place, each school has set its own. He said that since 2002, St. Albert has prohibited school-sponsored activities before noon on Sundays and limited such activities on Wednesdays.
He said the Sunday morning restriction on activities is important so that "families can attend Mass together and not have to worry about scheduling conflicts." He said Wednesday nights need to be clear for students to attend sacramental preparation classes and religious instruction.
McNeil said the Omaha Archdiocese's Sunday policy isn't expected to affect high school sports. Where it might have an effect is on youth leagues and tournaments.
The Wednesday rule also might come into play at some schools.
At the high school level, in fact, Sunday games aren't an issue. The Nebraska School Activities Association's bylaws bar competition on Sundays, said Jim Angele, assistant director of the governing body.
There's a similar rule for middle schools, for which association membership is voluntary.
Many schools also have long avoided scheduling competitions on Wednesdays as a way to avoid conflicts, he said.
For many schools, it's an informal understanding. The Millard Public Schools, though, has a written policy saying school events should not be scheduled after 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and that events should conclude by 6:30 p.m.
Angele said the activities association also tries to stay away from Wednesdays, although it can't always avoid it during championship play. This year's state softball championship, in fact, starts on a Wednesday.
Officials with several Omaha-area Catholic schools say they don't anticipate any impact. They've long followed the archdiocese's policy.
Dan Schinzel, Creighton Prep athletic director, said his school asks coaches to stick to the afternoon, on the rare occasions when they have held Sunday practices.
The Rev. Robert Tillman, coach of the Prep cross country team, said he is holding a practice today from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. that will conclude before Mass.
The practice was scheduled in August, Tillman said, before he was notified of the archbishop's directive. He said the team has its only Monday meet of the season this week, hence the Sunday practice.
"I'm really supportive of the policy, and we'll have to in the future make greater consideration for that," Tillman said.
Dennis Mailliard, athletic director at St. Margaret Mary School, said his school also holds rare Sunday practices after morning Mass. Any Wednesday practices during the school year wrap up before religious education classes at the grade school.
Mailliard also is involved with the Parochial Athletic League. It, too, follows the archdiocese's policy.
Lucas wrote that the policy grew out of discussions with area pastors "about the number of activities seen to compete with a proper Catholic observance of Sunday."
He cited a recent Parade magazine cover, featuring a "frazzled-looking couple" asking how their Sundays had gotten "so crazy," in order to raise the issue of Sunday practices.
Catholics, he wrote, are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days and to refrain from work or other activities that distract from worship or from rest needed to restore mind and body.
Lucas acknowledged that activity schedules may already have been set for the coming months. Parish leaders can work to make sure future schedules conform to the policy, he wrote.
He also acknowledged the benefits that participating in sports can have on youths, and expressed gratitude for the coaches who give their time to them.
World-Herald staff writer Sam Womack contributed to this report.
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