We can’t let inner-city Catholic schools go extinct

Montrose Press [Montrose CO]

September 18, 2021

By Gary Franks

A former Catholic cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, is facing trial on charges of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy. He is the only current or former U.S. cardinal to be criminally charged with child sex crimes.

The Catholic Church has been paying millions of dollars to settle such cases for decades. I would argue that the collateral damage for inner-city children (Black and Hispanic) could be at least as damaging, in a completely different way, than the pedophilia cases.

The Archdiocese of Hartford paid more than $50 million to settle abuse allegations against dozens of its priests. The archdiocese admitted in a financial statement that such payments harmed its ability to provide other services. Among its major assets would be school buildings.

Connecticut could be on the verge of ending Catholic school choice for inner-city high school kids with only one such school left, Kolbe Cathedral.

Just imagine if the state’s public schools denied inner-city children the opportunity to get an education but allowed students from white communities to have that opportunity. The entire nation would be outraged. Now imagine the villain in this scenario is a very unlikely institution: the Catholic Church and its Catholic Schools. The church is allowing white communities to have an opportunity at a Catholic school education in neighborhood high schools while denying the same opportunity to Black and Hispanic students by closing all of its inner-city Catholic high schools in Connecticut. It could rightly be called discriminatory.

This started largely with the systematic closing of the feeder Catholic grade schools in proximity to the inner-city Catholic high school. This allowed for a self-fulfilling prophecy with the inner-city high school, which was put on a predictable path to a declining enrollment.

This is what occurred in Waterbury’s Sacred Heart High School, my alma mater. Its doors were shut for the first time in 100 years despite the efforts of alumni and the community, who offered financial support to keep the school open.

The record is clear. After the closing of seven inner-city Catholic high schools, there will be only one Catholic High School in Connecticut not in an affluent white community. The schools can try to segregate themselves like the schools in the South did in the 20th Century, prompting the Brown v. Board of Education decision. But like Bob Jones University in the 1980s, which also condoned discriminatory practices, these schools cannot be allowed to receive federal funding and, in most states, state funding.

The graduation rates at Catholic schools in Connecticut are much higher than at most inner-city public schools. The prospects for college scholarships are much better in Catholic schools, and the values that a Catholic high school education offers are superior as well, in my opinion.

For example, Black people and Hispanics account for a majority of abortions in America. I would think the abortion rate would be much lower for those who attended a Catholic high school. I also suspect the rate of incarceration for former students of inner-city public schools would be much higher than for the graduates of inner-city Catholic high schools.

Yet, the Catholic high schools for inner-city children in Connecticut are on the verge of extinction, soon to become a memory and thing of the past, ending Catholic school choice for inner-city high school kids.

Connecticut is not an aberration. Inner-city Catholic schools have been closing nationwide.

There are many thousands of Blacks and Hispanics who have benefitted from a Catholic education. All of us would owe a part of our success in life to having this opportunity. As possibly the first Black product of a Catholic high school education to enter Congress, I find the pulling up of the “ladder of opportunity” on millions of other Black people and Hispanics by the Catholic Church very disheartening. Let us pray that something positive can happen. We must not hurt those who are in the greatest need of help.

(Gary Franks is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut and visiting professor/adjunct at Hampton University, Georgetown University and the University of Virginia. He is now a public policy consultant and columnist. Franks has written three books, including his most recent, “With God, For God and For Country,” and co-hosts the “We Speak Frankly” podcast with his son.)