Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill is in her final weeks as superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. When she first took over that job 8 years ago the archdiocese had 114 grade and high schools. Now the number is 89.
Last Friday, at an event entitled "A Washington Briefing for the Nation's Catholic Community," Weitzel-O'Neill offered her opinion on a variety of issues related to Catholic schools. One such issue is the appearance of schools in the "Catholic tradition." These are generally schools started by concerned parents without the approval - or support - of their dioceses. According to a CNS story,
... what Weitzel-O'Neill termed "faux Catholic schools" are springing up, led by those who have been in the Catholic home-schooling movement. She showed the home page to a website for a Pope John Paul II Academy in a suburban section of the Archdiocese of Washington, which has no connection with the archdiocese, despite entreaties by archdiocesan officials that the school seek some sort of connection. "They're teaching the Catholic faith, but they're not approved by any bishop," she added.
Let me see if I've got this straight. Ms. Weitzel-O'Neill has closed 22% of her schools in the 8 years she's been on the job, a record that would scream FAILURE! in just about any other area of endeavor. And now she is concerned that some Catholic parents have started a school that she and her successors will never be able to close. How, exactly, is that a problem?
Ms. Weitzel-O'Neill also expresses concern that the school is teaching the Catholic faith without having been approved by a Catholic bishop. A quick check of the school's website indicates that her concern might be misplaced.
Will the School be Served by the Archdioceses of Washington?
The school is not an Archdiocesan school. This means that we are challenged to find financial support from our community, and that we cannot, under canon law, lay claim to the title “Catholic.” Rather that title must be given to the school by the Archbishop. Since the Archdiocese has struggled for many years with failing schools, it continues to consider new schools with caution. Our view is that our students, teachers and parents must not hide their faith or treat it as a private matter, but we must let it permeate all that we do, as Pope Benedict XVI has called us to do.
Will There be Any Religious Formation in the School?
We are charged by Christ to go forth and teach all nations. Therefore, the religious formation of our children is integral to the existence of Pope John Paul II Academy. In a day of moral relativism, the teachings of the Catholic Church have given the world an example of sound judgment and spiritual clarity. Consequently, our students will be deeply immersed into the sacred scripture and the treasure of the Church’s magisterial teachings.
Will the School Have Religious Devotions?
Religious devotions have been embraced by our families and by our church as an important form of spiritual growth. The Stations of the Cross, the Holy Rosary, the Angelus, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and other practices of our Catholic families will be given places of prominence in the daily life of the school.
Given the above, I suspect that the Pope John Paul II Academy just might be more Catholic than many of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
Maybe that's the REAL problem.