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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - More and more Catholic schools are being permanently shut down because of the financial crisis due to the pandemic, and bishops seem to be reluctantly throwing in the towel.
The Wuhan virus has thrown Catholic education into a state of financial disarray, and the pandemic has been particularly catastrophic for private Catholic schools. Across the country, at least 100 of them are projected to close permanently, not to reopen in the fall of 2020. This estimate is according to the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA).
"There simply isn't money," says Kathy Mears, interim president and CEO of NCEA. "I would hate for our country to lose a great source of education." Mears speculates that 100 schools closing is likely an underestimate and that the number of permanent closures will grow in the coming months.
There are three main reasons for the closures: Families who have lost jobs are unenrolling for fear they won't be able to afford tuition; schools have had to cancel spring fundraisers that help keep the institutions afloat; and churches' offertory collections, which typically provide a major source of education funding, have taken a big hit.
Further, foundations that normally help Catholic schools are shifting their spending priorities during the pandemic where widespread unemployment and financial devastation have been challenging for many families.
Schools that cater to lower- and middle-class families are being hit the hardest.
"The Catholic schools that serve wealthier clientele will probably be fine," says Mears, "but the ones that serve the working class and the poor, it will be difficult. If this trend continues," she claims, "I worry there won't be Catholic school options, especially for the middle class and poor."
This problem is present throughout the nation. Mears estimates the closures will impact at least 50,000 students from coast to coast.
"I know [Catholic schools are] important to the country," said Mears, noting that a majority of sitting Supreme Court justices attended Catholic schools as children, as did Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "We hope some schools will reopen, but history tells us most will not."
Bishops from around the country have not been reticent in asking for money during this pandemic crisis, even realizing how many people the virus has put out of work. Suspicion arises, however, when considering how bishops have often sold off real estate to raise significant funds for clergy sex abuse payouts. According to BishopAccountability.org, U.S. dioceses have had to pay out over $3 billion in awards and settlements since 1950, with the vast majority of them — over $2.5 billion dollars-worth — being paid out to abuse survivors since 1984.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, for example, sold off a Holy Name Cathedral parking lot for $110 million that he used to pay clergy sex abuse victims in February 2019. Yet, it is the archdiocese's pandemic emergency fund on which the faithful depend for relief and assistance, which promises to "support parents of Catholic school students who might struggle with tuition payments because of unexpected job loss, ministries providing the needy with sustenance or parish communities deeply harmed by the pandemic."
Before shuttering his churches owing to COVID-19, Bp. Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey posted on his diocesan website a letter dated March 27, asking for donations for his newly established Parish Emergency COVID-19 Fund.
"Our parishes are life-giving places where the faithful join in the celebration of the Eucharist, grow in their faith and come together in charity," begins the letter. "We embrace the joys of baptisms and weddings and shed tears at the funeral of a member of our parish family. Simply put, our parishes are our spiritual homes and serve as a refuge, especially in our times of need." Catholic schools are closing in Paterson.
Catholic advocate and lifelong parishioner in the diocese of Paterson, Fred Simon, told Church Militant that the "Church has been hurting financially since it began closing its schools, which were its spiritual greenhouses, assuring a steady flow of Catholics for generations. Due to the lack of foresight, evangelization and, yes, faith, it now finds itself in a crisis of its own making." Simon added, "Bishop Serratelli and all the bishops of the Church need to be true shepherds of souls and not business administrators of a failed and misguided enterprise."
As faithful Catholics have noted, Catholic schools, colleges and universities have suffered greatly in the past few decades from a lack of faith and widespread doctrinal ignorance in its teachers, professors and administrators. Now the pandemic has wrought a financial crisis. Wise observers realize that if the first crisis had been averted, the second one would be much easier to solve.