WASHINGTON (October 18, 2002) -- The U.S. bishops will consider a proposal to draft a new statement on Catholic elementary and secondary schools at their annual Fall meeting, November 11-14.
As planned, the statement would undergo broad consultation and be voted on at the 2004 Fall meeting of the bishops.
The discussion follows a proposal from superintendents of the twelve dioceses with the largest Catholic school systems in the United States. They include, in order of the size of their school systems, the archdioceses and dioceses of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Cleveland, St. Louis, Newark, Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, and New Orleans.
The superintendents asked for a new statement by the Bishops of the United States that would renew the commitment of the Bishops and the general Catholic community to the availability, affordability, and accessibility of Catholic elementary and secondary schools for the increasingly diverse church population in this new millennium.
In response, the Bishops" Committee on Education, chaired by Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh, has recommended the development of a brief and focused statement supporting Catholic elementary and secondary schools and the parents who seek to send their children to these schools.
It has been twelve years since the Bishops last spoke on the issue of Catholic elementary and secondary schools. In calling for the statement, the Education Committee noted the reality of the 21st Century.
"We have entered a new millennium with new realities, opportunities, and challenges for our Catholic Schools," they said.
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, the synodal document on the Church in America, and Pope John Paul II"s letter At the Beginning of the New Millennium, have significantly revised the context, the language, and the challenge of the Church"s overall mission of evangelization, catechesis, and education.
"While the Bishops" 1990 statement In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, was significant and addressed some critical issues, much of the social, religious, academic, and economic context in which that statement was developed has changed and continues to change. This changing reality significantly impacts the increasingly diverse makeup of the Church in general and our Catholic elementary and secondary schools in particular. As we reflect on both the past and the future, there are many issues that need to be examined and strategies developed, if we are to maintain, re-enforce, and re-invigorate the Catholic community"s commitment to our Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
"Our Catholic schools have made a major contribution to our nation"s history and progress, but there are many who do not either understand or appreciate that history and those contributions.
"Catholic education is facing serious staffing problems at both the diocesan and local level. These issues call us to consider how we will recruit, train, and provide the economic and human resources necessary to provide for the ongoing formation and retention of quality diocesan and school level administrators as well as classroom teachers.
"There is a need to re-enforce our commitment to the Catholic identity of our schools, building communities of faith, advancing the message of the Gospel, the social teachings of the Church, and at the same time maintaining a quality academic program for our children as they prepare to live and work in the technologically complex 21st century.
"There is an increasing demand by many parents that the church and its schools address the needs of children with special needs.
"There is a need to re-affirm the rights of parents to educate their children, and address their responsibilities within the overall teaching mission of the Church. The recent positive Supreme Court decision on the Cleveland Scholarship program may provide us an opportunity to address the ways that we can work to advance this issue on the policy level.
"There are significant concerns with the maintenance of Catholic schools in both major urban centers and in rural parts of our nation. While there is evidence that we are opening numerous schools, there is concern over the increasing number of school closings across the nation and the impact that this has on our poor and most at risk children."
An estimated 700,000 students attend Catholic secondary schools and 1.9 million attend Catholic elementary schools.
The USCCB"s November meeting opens Monday, November 11, and continues through Thursday, November 14. Media credentials applications should be submitted by October 28.