Philadelphia Archdiocese All Wrong On School Closings!
This past friday's announcement by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to close forty-eight catholic schools at the end of this school year has been earth shattering to the diocese's catholic community. This decision is absolutely wrong it reflects a failure of the diocesan authorities to do their duty!
What is of shocking noteworthiness here is that this decision to close this many schools this quickly reveals a profound departure for the archdiocese from the standard that has been used over the past fifteen years to determine when schools should be closed and it is not a good new standard. During the past fifteen years the standard has been essentially "financial" the school in question is running at such a financial operating deficit that church authorities can't responsibly allow the school to continue in operation now with this January 6th decision the standard has changed it is no longer solely an extreme and compelling financial loss condition which triggers closure but a lesser financial consideration (the school is financially struggling) coupled with subjective considerations that combining the school with others can offer a stronger school (bigger student body) and can offer more programs. This new subjective standard is wrong because it doesn't give proper consideration to the reality that local parish schools hold great value to members of that parish these school represent roots and human connection for people from these parishes and the same can be said for the high schools and the high school communities. These parish schools not only represents a source of pride for members of a parish but also a valuable asset for the parish that members collectively have and do make at least a good if not great effort to create and preserve and it shouldn't be cast aside so easily. The adoption of this new standard is an act of disrespect and unfairness to the members, teachers, administrators and supporters of these catholic schools on the chopping block who have sacrificed and worked so hard to keep these schools operating. This closure decision violates diocesan authorities duty to try to educate and raise as many young souls in the Catholic faith and bring them closer to Jesus as possible for this closure decision will result in many Catholic families doing a recalculation on whether to send their children to catholic school and decide against it, they will think the new catholic school is farther away its a consolidation school its unknown whether it will be good the morale of catholic school teachers will be low with this inconsiderate school closing decision and it is a real financial burden to pay the Catholic school tuition its easier to just send their kids to public schools.
To be frank, this Jan. 6th decision represents a shortage in character on the new Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput's part; it seems to this writer there is two kinds of leaders emerging in the Catholic Church there is the one "good" kind embodied in men like Cardinal Rigali and his predecessor Cardinal Bevilacqua that act like ordinary decent people trying as best they can to do the right thing considering everyone's interests in the task they face then there is the other type of leader the "bad" kind embodied in men like Archbishop Chaput and Camden Bishop Galante who see themselves as guardians and implementers of this new progressive and sophisticated Catholic ideology that often lacks basic decency, goodness and consideration of the individual one can see this in the diocese of Camden with its high number of closing of individual parishes to create these large parishes that can offer more services; Catholicism isn't about offering services its about love its about doing what is good it's not about needlessly leaving a path of hurt human beings from your decision as bishop. This Jan. 6th decision represent a shortfall in character for Archbishop Chaput from another standpoint, he was only installed as Archbishop in September of last year prior to that he had no meaningful connection to the archdiocese now within six months he is going to shutdown twenty-five percent of the Catholic School system of the archdiocese making major cuts to an entity most Archdiocesan Catholics view as a precious treasure for the community, maybe if he had been Archbishop for four or five years and had earned the good will of the Archdiocesan community could it be legitimate for him to steer this course; candidly, this decision by Archbishop Chaput reflects the character shortcomings of his of not knowing his place in his world from a goodness standpoint and being callous and brazen.
Let's look at the details surrounding this Jan. 6th decision, Bishop Chaput tries to characterize this decision as something an independent panel of experts recommended and so he is just doing what the experts advised here. This panel is described as the Blue Ribbon Commission. It's make-up consists of sixteen people (six lay people "retired" from prestigious jobs) now we know Bishop Chaput met with the commission and provided his thoughts on the subject before the commission gave its recommendation and we know Bishop Chaput is an ulta-orthodox Catholic it has not been reported the contents of his testimony to the commission but who wants to make a bet that his testimony wasn't along the same lines of his statements he has been making on this subject since friday, dramatic numbers of closures are warranted. Now if you have the archbishop saying to commission I think large scale shuttering of schools is needed and the commission is composed of devout catholics seven of the sixteen being vowed religious and mostly all the remainder chosen to be on the board because they have experience on catholic boards where they have demonstrated they can be reliably counted on to support Church authorities to try to claim the commission is independent is disingenuous and illegitimate. Moreover, Bishop Chaput's attempt to obtain cover by saying I went to the priest advisory committee and asked if I should wait a year to implement the school closure plan and they said emphatically no is also disingenuous and illegitimate everyone knows that the priests that get put on that committees are priests that can be counted on for the their loyalty to diocesan authorities. I'll tell you that if the priests in active ministry throughout the archdiocese were given the freedom to voice their conscience on this matter and a confidential survey was taken where the priests were given a choice to vote in favor of this forty-eight school closure/consolidation plan or a plan based on the old standard where schools that are really in compelling financial hardship were identified and given a year to turn things around or be shuttered and the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations for a Catholic schools foundation to be created to solicit donations and estate gifts (only for the school foundations work) accompanied with individual support boards (in part to raise money) for individual schools was implemented I am certain that the majority of active ministry priests would choose supporting the latter "do as little harm as possible" plan. Anyone who has extensively observed the work of active ministry priests sees clearly that such priests know quite well catholic families that have children and they know the childrens' school are an integral part of the childrens' and families' lives and the shuttering of a school is a major upheaval in those childrens' and families' lives and it should only be done when it can't be avoided and for these priests whose school is being spared the ax they know they wouldn't want such an upheaval unnecessarily done to their children so they don't think its right to be done to another priest's children.
The other things that don't make sense about this forty-eight school closure decision is that the political landscape looks like it is more likely than not in the upcoming few years that a school voucher program will be enacted in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a significant number of ineffective schools and the people of Pennsylvania are about all school reform programmed out we've tried the state takeover, the private school management, the promise academy reform model nothing consistently works the taxpayers are tired of the continual call for more money for schools there is a growing consensus among experts that the education problem solution is make a system that produces good charter schools and give parents the power to send their children to private schools vis-a-vis a voucher program or these charter schools and let the bad public schools shutdown. Why would the archdiocese be closing schools the Catholic community very well may need in upcoming years with the initiation of a voucher program. Moreover, it is almost a certainty that there will be more scholarships available for kids that want to go to Catholic schools with the expansion of the tax credit program for businesses that donate to the scholarship program people in the political know talk as if passage of such legislation is inevitable in the near future which all points to the conclusion that it isn't sensible to unnecessarily to be closing catholic schools right now.
Another thing that doesn't make sense about this dramatic school closure decision is that in the last few years the Archdiocese had this huge "unprecedented in recent times" fundraising campaign called the Heritage of Faith/Vision of Hope program where parishes were given fund raising goals and there was a real full-court press to raise money from catholic families well the implication if not the express commitment was that this fund raising would preserve catholic education in the archdiocese as catholics know it for decades to come which makes this school closure move by the archdiocese a betrayal to this campaign and its promises, I suspect that the archdiocese will suffer a loss of credibility and support from ordinary catholics in the future over this betrayal. Further, the way archdiocesan officials justify their decision is they say over the last ten to fifteen years Catholic families have dramatically cut down in sending their children to catholic schools its almost like their trying to say Catholic families you turned your back on the archdiocesan school system so what do expect these cuts are your just penalty. This mentality is so bogus in so many ways many catholic families suffer from a shortage of income from what they should have if the American economy was managed well and the bishops across America are fully culpable in this wrong doing, American bishops use their enormous power to put pro-life candidates in public office no matter that overall these politicians hold bad economic policies that have allowed America's manufacturing to be gutted and the good middle-class jobs that go with such an economy to be lost; why haven't we heard the Catholic Church over the years fighting for failsafe measures like tarriffs and quotas to protect American manufacturing jobs the terrible truth is U.S. bishops are fully responsible for the shortage of monies and students flowing into the Catholic school system, the least a good bishop could do is do his best to try to keep as many Catholic schools in operation as possible until the American people can turn the country around and rebuild its manufacturing base.
The Catholic laity of the archdiocese should pursue the obvious solution to this problem. Major donors to the Catholic church and other catholics of high stature in the archdiocese should get together and lead the diocese to have the Catholic laity takeover the school system. They should go to the archdiocese authorities and say obviously with this plan to butcher the catholic school system you can't handle the task of running the Catholic system, you're over your head we'll take it over. These leaders could establish a non-profit Catholic School Foundation totally separate and apart from the archdiocese of philadelphia, it would be run like any major non-profit trust no personal agendas no progressive philosophy implementation involved just responsible intelligent and wise management America has plenty of such major trust funds in operation that have been operated well for decades. If the Archdiocese has education endowments or the like the new foundation should take them over but after that reconciliation the foundation would not seek one penny from the archdiocese for Catholic school education. It would get its money by seeking contributions and estate gifts from Catholics and catholic education supporters; this would almost certainly be a better fund raising mechanism then having the archdiocese raise money because people don't like to give money to the church because they don't like some of it's value, the erroneous faith they teach, bad religious individuals that have crossed their path, scandals the church has been involved with, etc.. Many people treasure the catholic education they or their loved ones have received and would find it very appealing to support a non-diocese connected school foundation.
One last note, this writer occasionally attends a weekday mass at "Our Lady of Lourdes" Parish in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia and regularly they have the children from "Our Lady of Lourdes" school attend the Mass now the number of children in this school numbers around two-hundred and the school has a significant size contingent of nuns who are teachers at the school. What is interesting about this school is the remarkable well manneredness of these children, they act in an orderly manner they respond the way they are instructed to they respect and obey the teachers to someone like myself in the age vicinity of fifty observing these children is like going back in time to my own Catholic elementary school experience in the 1970's where school was about learning there was no misbehaving problem. I learned this past Sunday that unfortunately this school is one of the forty-four elementary schools scheduled to close this June and reflecting on my aforementioned experiences with this school I obviously can't prove this but when one looks at this school through the lens of faith it is obvious that God's blessing is poured heavily on this school which should raise the question in archdiocesan officials, clergy and for that matter all archdiocesan catholics mind which is "Is this large scale school closing decision God's will?" I don't know how a person in good conscience could say it's God's will to close this remarkable school in this gateway community of Philadelphia there is no way this school closing plan will replace all the good for all the individuals that this school with the grace of God does I think many archdiocesan Catholics would like archdiocesan officials to face this reality!
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