Archbishop Chaput to let girls play CYO football

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Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has decided to allow girls to play football in Philadelphia’s Catholic Youth Organization league next season, rejecting the recommendation of a panel he directed to review the league’s policy banning them.

That rule was subject to scrutiny this winter after Caroline Pla, 11, of Doylestown, was told by the archdiocese that she would not be allowed to play next fall. She played the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to an oversight.

Caroline, who started an online petition in December urging the archdiocese to reconsider the rule, said she was surrounded by an elated cluster of classmates, friends, and neighbors when she learned the news from her mother after school.

“It was just all really exciting, because everyone was screaming and excited,” she said, noting that her mother was making a video of her reaction on her iPhone.

Chaput in January told the archdiocese to assemble a panel of coaches, medical experts, and pastors to discuss the rule and recommend whether to uphold it. The panel met in February, and, according to the archdiocesan statement Thursday, voted “by a wide majority” to uphold the ban.

Chris McCune, the league director for CYO football and a panel member, confirmed that there was an “overwhelming feeling” on the panel to uphold the ban, saying members raised concerns about safety issues and teaching techniques that “could be misconstrued as inappropriate for girls,” such as blocking.

But Chaput sought counsel from “additional sources,” the statement said without elaborating; he considered factors such as the expectations of parents and coaches, legal issues, and the stances of other CYO leagues around the country.

Chaput was not available for comment Thursday, but archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth Gavin said Chaput also considered the public’s response, which included hundreds of letters.

“Everything factored into the final decision,” Gavin said.

Whatever swayed the archbishop, the Plas were thrilled. Caroline’s father, George, said he was “relieved and happy.”

“After all the stories and all the panels, at the end of the day, I’m assuming [Chaput] just kind of figured out that if a kid can play, they can play,” he said. “So I’m very glad about it.

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