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Catholic Schools in State of “Mission Confusion”

A leading Catholic education executive says the fate of Catholic schools in America is dire as they deal with financial issues, problems with teachers unions, and social issues such as admitting children of homosexual parents. "We are in very, very serious trouble," said Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, the outgoing superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, during a May 7 meeting with educators. According to the Catholic News Service (CNS), Weitzel-O’Neill said one issue that must be dealt with is the target audience for Catholic schools. Schools in urban areas that reached out to immigrant and non-Catholic students in the past have been closing down since the 80’s and have never been replaced, thus eliminating a chance to evangelize the population. Instead, schools are turning to more affluent families who can afford the ever-increasing tuition. ”In the Washington Archdiocese, the average elementary school tuition is $7,000 a year, and the least expensive Catholic high school's tuition is $11,000; some schools charge as much as $30,000,” CNS reports. The high cost of Catholic education is due in large part to the vanishing religious population who used to teach at schools “for nothing or next to nothing,” Weitzel-O'Neill said. Further complicating this problem are teacher’s unions, which she said work to prevent public money from going to nonpublic schools. The unions’ motivation is to preserve the jobs of public school teachers, but "It isn't about the adults,” she said. “It's about the kids." Another "big question" posed by Weitzel-O'Neill: "Gay couples -- should they be allowed to send their children to Catholic schools? Because in (the Archdiocese of) Denver they were told they were not," she said, referring to a situation in March in which a lesbian couple were told that the two children they are raising would not be permitted to re-enroll at a parish school in Boulder. "Is it about the kids or the adults?" she asked. Lack of support for Catholic education from parents and pastors is another problem. Many parents believe their children receive a satisfactory education in the public school system and backing from pastors is also weak because a growing number of them never attended Catholic schools themselves. Weitzel-O'Neill said that when she started her job in Washington eight years ago, the archdiocese had 114 grade and high schools. Now the number is 96, including seven schools in the District of Columbia that changed to charter schools in 2008. "It's probably one of the most horrible things I've ever done, to stand in front of poor people and tell them we don't have enough money to keep the school going," she said. The slide is mirrored nationwide, CNS reports, as Catholic schools have closed at the rate of better than 100 a year over the past 50 years, with 5,645 fewer Catholic schools operating now than in 1960, according to figures from the National Catholic Educational Association. The “mission crisis” in the Catholic education system has also opened the door to new education movements, such as Catholic home-schooling. Dubbing them "faux Catholic schools,” she said they have no connection with the diocese. "They're teaching the Catholic faith, but they're not approved by any bishop," she added. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®