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Another Twist to the Catholic School Discussion

I don’t think Catholic vs. public schools is an either/or proposition. The challenge is to strike the right balance. There is definitely a place for Catholic schools in the mission of the Church. Interestingly, one of the roles of Catholic schools I never questioned is their role in educating the inner city poor. Then I read this article in the Washington Post.

The Archdiocese of Washington announced yesterday that it planned to convert seven D.C. Catholic schools to charter schools, a decision that angers some parents, students and teachers who worried over the fate of their parochial schools.

The schools are elementary-level, have nearly all-African American student bodies and are located in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. To become charter schools, they would have to make changes such as ending school prayer and removing religious symbols. But as charter schools, which are independent public schools, they would receive operating funds from the District.

I understand these seven schools are operating at a four-million-dollar deficit. But what purpose of the Diocese of Washington DC is being served by operating secular schools? As the article points out, part of the reason these schools are struggling is because secular alternatives already exist:

The conversions come at a time when urban Catholic elementary schools across the country are under unprecedented financial pressure. The once-robust inner-city Catholic population has dwindled and, more recently, charter schools, which offer a tax-payer funded alternative to Catholic private schools, have drawn poorer students away from Catholic schools.

If a Catholic Church is going to run a hospital it needs to be a Catholic hospital. It needs to provide medical care within the context of Catholic principles. Similarly, if the Catholic Church is going to run a school it needs to be a Catholic school. Why should a Diocese mask the Catholic identity of its schools in order to provide an education that is no different than Secular Charter School X down the road? It looks like the Diocese of Washington DC is selling its soul for federal funding.


frival said…
You said it. The solution to the problem is not to become less Catholic, but to become more Catholic. After all, if I can get a secular education from a secular institution on the cheap, why would I pay to get a secular education from a Catholic institution? But give me a truly Catholic education from a truly Catholic institution and I'll work my fingers to the bone to make sure my and others' kids can get it. It's the very least I can do.
James said…
It is a simple calculation: the schools lose money. The city would pay, if the schools were not acting like Catholic schools, so the Archdiocese of Washington is going to save lots of money.
No, the Archdiocese is not showing concern about the children or the potential for evangilasation.

It is showing its concern about money. It may be a rather peculiar stance for a Roman Catholic Archdiocese, but its priorities are pretty clear.

It is a shame that bishops got into the federal money business and lost their way.
Eileen said…
I remember reading in the Post a few months ago that most of the students in those struggling DC Catholic schools are not Catholic. If that is the case, then the Church isn't really operating Catholic schools in the traditional sense of the word -- schools that assist Catholic parents in the religious (and academic) formation of their children in the Catholic faith. You can't have Catholic schools without Catholic families. Parents aren't choosing these schools because the schools reinforce the Catholic faith that is lived at home. They are choosing the schools because they offer a safe place in which their children can receive a secular education with uniforms and a veneer of Christian doctrine. So why not give up the pretense of being a truly Catholic school, take down the crufixes, and accept the government funding?
Catholic Mom said…

Pope Benedict addressed your question in Deus Caritas Est:

The increase in diversified organizations engaged in meeting various human needs is ultimately due to the fact that the command of love of neighbour is inscribed by the Creator in man's very nature. It is also a result of the presence of Christianity in the world, since Christianity constantly revives and acts out this imperative, so often profoundly obscured in the course of time. The reform of paganism attempted by the emperor Julian the Apostate is only an initial example of this effect; here we see how the power of Christianity spread well beyond the frontiers of the Christian faith. For this reason, it is very important that the Church's charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance.

Catholic schools are called address the spiritual poverty, not just the material poverty of the inner city students. I think they betray this mission when they hide their Catholic identity in order to receive government money.
Eileen said…
I think you're missing the point. A school cannot have a true Catholic identity if most of its students (and probably its faculty as well) are not Catholic. As a CCD teacher, you know all too well that your work bears little fruit if your students aren't going to Mass and their parents make absolutely no efforts either to teach or to live the faith. It's even more difficult to teach the Catholic faith to children when their families are not even pretending to be Catholic. How can you teach children how to find God in the sacraments, for example, when the children aren't receiving those sacraments? You can teach them prayers, which the children can dutifully memorize, but without the lived faith behind those prayers, the prayers are just so many words.
RAnn said…
I agree with Eileen. Those schools are being run as a corporal work of mercy--to instruct the ignorant. Unless they are bringing large numbers of converts to the Church, they aren't serving the mission of promoting or transmitting Catholicism. By taking tax money as charter schools they are able to serve more kids. Our archdiocese strongly supports school vouchers, and was pushing them particularly for poverty-level children attending failing public schools. Pre-Katrina they claimed to have 1200 slots available. Since I doubt many of those kids are Catholic, adding them to Catholic schools cannot help but dilute the Catholic identity of the school. The state has a program where groups could take over failing public schools. If the goal is to teach academics, far more kids could be reached using the administative expertise of the archdiocesean schools to take over failing schools than could be reached by filling 1200 empty chairs in Catholic schools with non-Catholic kids. If the goal is to teach Catholicism, few are able to achieve it with a large population that chooses the school for academic rather than religious reasons. I wrote about it in more detail here:
RAnn said…
Sorry, here is the URL I meant to post

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