In an unprecedented drop, U.S. Catholic school enrollment decreased by 6.4%, or more than 111,000 students, between fall of 2019 and the beginning of this school year.
The plunge, based on diocesan data published by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) in February, is the largest decline since record keeping began in the early 1970s and exceeded the drops that followed 2008 financial crisis and the clergy sex abuse scandal.
The enrollment drop translated to an equally stark number of Catholic school closures; 186 elementary schools and 23 high schools shut their doors permanently in 2020, more than doubling the average number of annual closures in the last five years, the NCEA found.
Mary Pat Donoghue, the executive director of the education secretariat at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the drop alarming but not unexpected, given the pandemic and long-term trends.
"The COVID crisis acted as an accelerant," she told NCR. "We were already in a process of decline for some time already."
- Read all of NCR's coverage of one year into the coronavirus pandemic here.
Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress passed the $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan, (ARP) and President Joe Biden signed it into law yesterday. The new law includes efforts to confront the pandemic and the economic consequences of the pandemic, but it also addresses child poverty and other long-standing issues of economic inequality.
"The plan constitutes a decisive repudiation of trickle-down economics in favor of a bottom-up approach to economic stimulus that is far more consistent with Catholic social teaching," writes NCR political columnist Michael Sean Winters.
The stimulus package is a big bet, Winters says, and if it fails to stimulate the economy, the Democrats will pay a political price, but if it works, the Republicans will pay the price for being bystanders at a time when so many are in profound pain.
"Whatever the political calculus, we all can hope that it works and, as Catholics, take some pride in the fact that our values and habits of ethical thought have played a role in coming to the nation's aid," he writes.
- The president and chairs of seven U.S. bishops' committees released a last-minute statement opposing abortion funding in that COVID-19 relief bill, showing once again that for the bishops, abortion trumps any other concern, we write in our editorial.
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- At an online panel for International Women's Day,
speakers representing Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua discussed the
United States' role in creating political and economic crises in
- In a new column, Ken Briggs says that Pope Francis is a creative presence who responds to people with mixed loyalties, with priorities that don't quite fit together, and can project support for all those needing to see their ambivalence and accept it.