It has been a very difficult week. It's been eight weeks since I last attended Mass or received Holy Communion and ten weeks since I received forgiveness in Confession thanks to the pandemic. But this week in particular has been difficult for a different reason. My children's Catholic school is being closed. The ultimate reason it's closing has to do with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and our bishop's decision to declare bankruptcy.
Many communities will face the death of Catholic education if bishops decide to use bankruptcy as a tool to defend against sex abuse claims.
My children's school served poor Catholics as well as middle class kids. There are far richer schools in my diocese, ones with NFL football player alumni to boast of, and they were not closed. My children's school was a bargain at half the tuition of those schools. This Catholic school produced a cardinal, a current bishop, and priests and sisters that served the Church for many years. But a few years of economic hardships in the school and a drop in the collection plate due to COVID19 coupled with the bankruptcy created a perfect storm that it couldn't survive.
Several of our local pastors are young--in their thirties. They were placed in charge of the school at a difficult time. Because of these factors they requested a 161 year-old Catholic school to be closed. Our bishop quickly agreed without consulting the school board. The local media quoted one priest as saying they'd have to “give up our other ministries” and so they closed the school instead.
If I had the money, I would gladly give it to the parish priests to keep open the school. Money is only paper. When my Church asked for money to build a larger local church building we gave. It was important to have enough space to meet in even if we used it just once a week. We understood that we needed to invest in the future generations who would worship there long after we died.
Our Church used to offer families a safe haven from the evils of this world. And this world is evil indeed. For example, my town's middle school has a “condom tree” which means thirteen-year-old girls go to the nurse's station to take them anytime. Of course their “boyfriends” are most likely older men. It is shocking that our public schools don't see this as immoral. Why not a cigarette tree? We must conclude that they are promoting what they value. Free Catholic schools used to offer us a way to escape our immoral society. Their value was eternally important.
Now my question is a simple one; it is not financial. It has far more weight in eternity than money. Given the indifference and hardness of our priests and bishops today, what child will consider a life of service to a Church that has no love for them?
A larger shift is also happening in Catholics' attitudes toward the victims of sexual abuse, who largely have been met with sympathy. The closing of Catholic schools is directly related to their demands for money. Today they have harmed innocent school children after their silence for decades. Silence of the Church and silence of the victims is now given retribution not by the guilty but by innocent school children a generation removed from what happened. This isn't justice, no matter what their lawyers say.
There are many victims because of the sex abuse scandal, many who were not even born when the abuse took place. Many good Catholics who had nothing to do with harming others are suffering while the few guilty abusive priest are mostly dead. Still, the innocent are the ones who are paying the claims.
The answer to the storm isn't to capitulate. We have to find creative means to build up our communities without closing the things like schools that pass on our faith. We must also keep in mind that it is not the entire Church that caused the sex abuse scandal, rather it was a very few bad priests and bishops, just like some bad teachers, coaches and politicians sexually abuse children.
Factors like these answer the “why” when good people leave our Church. What we are prepared to do about it is the real test of our faith.