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School closings will hurt long into the future

Consequences of Bishop Edward Kmiec's edict closing 14 Catholic parish elementary schools will be substantial, long lasting and incredibly detrimental to the spiritual health of this once proud diocese.

The diocesan media would like the members of this diocese to believe that the closing process was open and deliberate, but evidence abounds that just the opposite is true.

Apparently the Diocesan Reorganization Commission of the so-called Journey in Faith and Grace decided to act on the recommendations that were really compiled by the diocesan strategic planning group, headed by Sister Regina Murphy. The critical flaw in this process is that there was no vehicle established to provide for direct input via the presentation of testimony by the affected parishes.

Instead, the judgment of a small group of diocesan bureaucrats was substituted for true parish grass-roots feedback. In fact, representatives of the parish school boards, parish councils, parish trustees and parish school principals were never informed or given the opportunity to appear before the commission to provide feedback.

In the end, the diocesan order to close the 14 elementary schools constitutes a deliberate attack on the very foundation of our diocese. As of June, the diocese will have unilaterally withdrawn from providing families with the opportunity of Catholic elementary education in many cohesive, middle-class neighborhoods such as East Dunkirk, Angola, Lovejoy, Kaisertown, Attica, Ellicott Creek, Cleveland Hill, North Buffalo-St. Rose and Pine Ridge. The effect of these closings is to destabilize these fine communities.

Perhaps the most chilling aspects to these closings is the impact it could have on the very fine group of Catholic diocesan and independent high schools. Many of these elementary schools acted as feeders for higher Catholic education. Now this system could be disrupted, causing further dislocation within Catholic education.

Far from being the "toughest decision" the diocese has ever made, the closing process was engineered to deprive the parishioners of effective and proactive input in order that the bloated internal structure of the diocesan hierarchy be preserved.

The dichotomy is especially clear when we hear the diocese enunciate financial stress and yet we observe the upscale diocesan headquarters located on a full city block or the trendy West Side mega-mansion that is the bishop's temporary quarters.

Only now, after great damage has been inflicted on the diocese and on a dedicated cadre of educators, does the diocese reveal its too-little, too-late plan to assist Catholic education. The good people of this diocese realize that small Catholic elementary schools were sold out for a regressive and simplistic solution to a complex problem.

Craig Edward Speers is vice president of Saint Rose of Lima Parish Council and former board secretary of Saint Rose of Lima Elementary School Board.

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