The Treason of the Clerks: Church Leaders and Catholic Educators Are Killing Catholic Schools

By Greeley, Andrew M. | National Catholic Reporter, April 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Treason of the Clerks: Church Leaders and Catholic Educators Are Killing Catholic Schools


Greeley, Andrew M., National Catholic Reporter


A strange, almost spooky, phenomenon can be found among the leaders of the US. Catholic church. Bishops, priests, nuns, former priests, former nuns, religious education directors, catechumenate directors, etc. don't like to hear good news. To be fair, not everyone with the preceding job description dislikes good news, but enough of them do to shape the funk, the malaise, the drift, the ennui that currently besets the church in this country.

Thus when I reported that Catholic priests in America are on average happier in both their work lives and their personal lives than any other men, even married Protestant ministers, I was denounced, especially by priests. How dare I say they were happy when they knew they were not? Besides, their personal opinions were equally as valid as my data, which were only my personal opinions anyway. So why do research? Good question! I was not unprepared for such a reaction since the research I've done since 1960 on Catholic schools has been similarly dismissed or, more often, simply ignored. I've argued that Catholic schools are perhaps the most powerful resource left to the church in America. I have defended this position with high-quality data and in analysis that follows all the rules of survey data analysis. Moreover, Anthony Bryk and his colleagues in their book The Catholic Schools and the Common Good demonstrated how Catholic high schools achieve their excellence. In his work on social capital, the late James S. Coleman cited the overlapping networks of school and parish as generating the social capital that provides useful resources for both institutions. As far as I can tell, very few Catholic leaders have read or even heard of these works. And they may have heard of my work but they haven't read me either--though they claim to know what I've said. (They don't, by the way.)

Why don't these clergy or quasi clergy want to accept good news about either the priests or the schools? Why this treason of the clerks? Why have priests stopped recruiting other priests? why do Catholic educators compete to see how many schools can close? One possibility is that good news is really bad news and despair is good news. If you have despaired, then there's no point in working. You fold your tents and phase out.

Another reason is that the schools belong to the pre-Vatican II church. They have to go, just like everything else--the Mother of Jesus, saints, holy water, the rosary, the souls in purgatory, angels, all that kind of junk. Then we can really build a new church around the liturgy and the catechumenate and religious education.

Attend the meetings of Catholic educators. You will hear many pious cliches delivered with great fervor and piety, but they are innocent of meaning. No one jumps on a table and cries out, "Let's save Catholic schools.

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