Roman Catholic Diocese to Shut Schools in Philadelphia

Financial pressures and a dwindling student body are forcing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia to seriously consider closing 44 elementary schools and four high schools across Philadelphia, writes Peter Loftus at the Wall Street Journal.

As part of the recommendations made by a commission created by the diocese a year ago to address issues facing its schools, the nation’s sixth-largest Catholic diocese is set to see its number of elementary schools fall to 112 from 156, while the number of high schools would contract to 13 from 17.

Enrollment in the Philadelphia Catholic diocese has fallen more than 70% to about 68,000 currently from about 250,000 in 1961. This is thought to have been a huge factor in the recommendations, which proposes one of biggest rounds of school closings in the history of the diocese.

Philadelphia is another data point in a national trend. Catholic dioceses have been closing schools more frequently across the country due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls, including last year’s shuttering of 27 schools by the Archdiocese of New York, writes Loftus.

Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocesan spokesman, said that the 27 schools marked for closing received subsidies totaling $10 million this year. The remaining 189 parochial schools in the archdiocese received a total of $13 million in subsidies, writes Paul Vitello at the New York Times.

“No archbishop, and no school administrator, ever wants to see a Catholic school closed,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was appointed head of diocese last year.

“But as I often say, we can’t afford to fool ourselves. We need an honest response to serious losses that have been happening year after year in our schools.”

Archbishop Chaput believes that the closures would make the Catholic school system stronger, though he’s open to hear what their communities think. It is thought that students from schools that close would be assigned to nearby Catholic schools that remain open.

These proposed closures come in a long line of headaches for the diocese, which has grappled with criminal charges brought against several priests accused of sexually abusing children and a diocesan official accused of covering up the abuse.

The trials will take place later this year.