.- The announcement that dozens Philadelphia Catholic schools might close has caused “confusion, anger and grief,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput acknowledged on Jan. 12, as he asked people to react with Christian charity.
“It's useful to wonder how many of our schools might have been saved if, over the last decade, Catholics had fought for vouchers as loudly and vigorously as they now grieve about school closings,” Archbishop Chaput said in his Jan. 12 weekly online column.
Catholics are “discriminated against” because they must pay once for public schools and again for Catholic schools, he noted.
“School choice may not answer every financial challenge in Catholic education; but vouchers would make a decisive difference. They'd help our schools enormously,” he said, characterizing vouchers as “a matter of parental rights and basic justice.”
The closures affect four high schools and 44 elementary schools. They will displace almost 24,000 students, according to media estimates.
Many parents, students and employees have protested the closures.
The archbishop defended the Blue Ribbon Commission which made the recommendations. He stated that its members were “speaking truthfully” about “enrollment and financial realities nobody wants to face.”
“The resource challenges we face in 2012 are much harsher than 40 or 50 years ago when many of us attended Catholic school. No family can run on nostalgia and red ink,” he said.
Archbishop Chaput praised Catholic schools’ work and stressed the need for schools that are “vigorously Catholic” and “academically excellent.”
The “hardest part” of the commission’s deliberations was considering the burdens that many families and teachers will face, the archbishop said. He made assurances that the archdiocese will try to place students and teachers in new positions and assist those who will lose their employment.
He urged Catholics to remember their duty to treat one another with “charity and civility in Jesus Christ.”
Commission members and archdiocesan staff worked “selflessly” on the report and deserve “thanks and respect,” not “the bitter – and unjust – criticism” shown by some parents and students.
Catholic schools exist to form believing Catholic Christians who are people of the Gospel and of justice, mercy and charity, the archbishop said as he brought his column to a close.
“If they produce something less, then we need to ask ourselves whether they deserve to survive.”