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Student Enrollment Drops at Catholic Schools, Donations to Faith Groups Decline

Catholic school systems throughout the country are witnessing uncharacteristic declines in student enrollment, reported the New York Times. Interviews with the eleven largest K-8 Catholic school systems in the US revealed enrollment drops between 1.5 and 7 percent. School administrators quickly downplayed any connections with the well-publicized priest sex abuse scandal, pointing instead to expensive tuition, a struggling economy, increased competition, and the relocation of families to the suburbs as possible motivating factors. Still, a recent poll suggested that 20 percent of Catholic parishioners ceased donations to the dioceses due to the scandals, according to Rev. Joseph M. O’Keefe, associate dean of the Boston College’s School of Education. Ultimately, “The scandal will make itself felt around the money issue, because if laypeople stop donating to the dioceses, that will hurt the inner-city parish school,” he explained.

The Lansing State Journal reported that a December 2002 Gallup poll found roughly 40 percent of Catholics felt inclined to contribute less to the church, in part because of uncertainties regarding funding sources for paying abuse settlements.

Nonetheless, the Bush administration continues to lend support to faith-based groups. Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the president’s December 12th executive order (bypassing Congress) allowing religious groups to receive federal community and social services grant funding. Under the order, groups are also permitted to discriminate based on religious beliefs when hiring. US Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) criticized, “This creates a gaping hole in the civil liberties of many individuals, including religious minorities, racial minorities, unwed and pregnant women, gays and lesbians, women who have had abortions, and even divorced individuals,” reported Rocky Mountain News.

The Bush administration unveiled a proposal this month allowing religious groups to receive public funding to build or renovate faith centers that offer social services, according to the New York Times. The new policy, pending final approval by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), makes religious groups eligible for roughly $7.7 billion (spent last year). The only stipulation is that the funding may not be used for the religious section of the building. Opponents are outraged, claiming the administration is blatantly violating the separation of church and state. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) told the New York Times, “You run into the nightmarish problem of having to monitor what goes on inside churchesÉ Are we going to start sending in the inspector general to charge people with committing a bar mitzvah?”

Sources:

NY Times 1/14/03, 1/22/03; Rocky Mountain News 1/14/03; Lansing State Journal 1/19/03; Knight Ridder 12/11/03; NY Times 1/22/03

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