More on football

Ashley Brown knows what sixth-grader Caroline Pia is going through, fighting the church to play football. Brown holds the jersey she was all set to wear in Upper Darby in 2004 when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, citing its own rules, banned her from the field. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer

In Monday's Inquirer, I wrote about Ashley Brown, who was banned from playing CYO football in 2004 by the Archdiocese because she was a girl. Caroline Pla, an 11-year old Doylestown girl, is fighting the same battle against the Archdiocese today.

For more information, here's some source material I used:

It's in part based on two Inquirer stories from 2004: one on Ashley's initial fight with the Archdiocese, another on her being honored at halftime of a women's professional football game in Delaware. I spoke to Ashley and her mother on the phone, as well.

I also mentioned a story that reports the panel of experts convened by the Archdiocese ie leaning towards upholding the ban.

And I referenced an e-mail exchange between Pla and Archbishop Charles Chaput. The entire exchange - supplied to me by the Pla family and, which is hosting her petition - can be found below.

Pla to Archbishop Chaput, Jan. 27, 2013

Dear Archbishop Chaput,

My name is Caroline Pla and I am eleven years old. I have been playing football for the CYO program for the past 2 years. After those seasons, now it has come to the Archdiocese's attention that I cannot play, simply because I am a girl. The last two football seasons have been the best in all of the sports history. Being apart of the CYO program was incredible. Having the community service, prayers during practices and games, and the fun of being apart of one big family, was all great to me. Girls shouldn't be excluded from this experience, simply because we're girls.

I don't think that this rule is fair. I think that anybody, regardless of gender, deserves a chance to play whatever sport they want to. Therefore, I have decided to take action to get this rule changed. In November, I called and emailed Jason Budd, and he never responded. So then I started a petition to get the rule changed. That petition is at about 97,000 signatures. As you can see from that number, many other people think that this rule is unfair and that it is time for a change.

At the end of March, I will receive my Confirmation. I will be considered an adult in the church. As an adult, I feel that it would be important for me to have a conversation with you regarding this rule. One of the most important parts of a conversation is being able to listen to each other. I'd like you to hear my thoughts, and I would like to hear your thoughts. Do you think that it is possible to either meet or talk on the phone about this? I understand that there will be a committee, but I would like to talk to you.

Thank you and I am looking forward to your response.

Caroline Pla

Archibishop Chaput to Pla, Jan. 28 

Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your email of January 27. I'm copying this response to Ms. Leslie Davila, director of our Office for Child and Youth Protection. This is one of our ministerial guidelines, and I need to follow it; it's an awkward but necessary safety rule to protect young persons like you. I'm sure you understand. I'm also copying the email address I have for your father. Please make sure that both of your parents see our exchange.

Caroline, I appreciate your concern, and I'm glad CYO has meant so much to you. But I'm perplexed that you would contact me last, after publicizing your situation in both the national and regional media. Perhaps that's the way these problems have been handled here in Philadelphia in the past, but as people will gradually discover, that kind of approach has no effect on my decision-making. CYO rules exist for good reason. You're obviously a good athlete, I'm very proud of you for that, and it may be time to adjust CYO rules accordingly. That decision will not be made in haste, though. As the archdiocese has already indicated, the rules affecting your play will be reviewed by a committee of parents, pastors and sports and medical personnel. They will offer me their recommendation some time in the next two months, and then I'll make a final decision based on the safety and best interests of all players involved. There is no need for us to meet personally on this matter.

I admire your love of the game, Caroline, and I'm impressed by your zeal in pursuing the opportunity to play it. At the same time, it's important to understand that pressure is not a good way of showing respect for dedicated people who are simply fulfilling their duty to protect young people in sports.

Be assured of my good will and prayers for you and your family.

With best wishes in Jesus Christ,

+Archbishop Charles

Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Archbishop of Philadelphia

Pla to Archbishop Chaput, Jan. 28 

Dear Archbishop Chaput,

Thank you so much for writing back to me. I do want to clarify that I called Jason Budd three times and emailed him, November 19, 2012. He never responded. After waiting 25 days, without a response, then the media was made aware of this situation. If I had known that you were in charge of the final decision, I would of contacted you immediately. Msgr. Gentili on Tuesday informed my parents that you would have the final say. That is when I decided to send you an email.

I will pray that God guides you in your decision.

Thank you

Caroline Pla


Archbishop Chaput is expected to make a final decision in March, according to Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth Gavin.