Saturday, December 03, 2005

Archdiocese of Miami resorts to Strong Arm Tactics

I am an alumnus of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, which is an all boys middle school and high school in Miami. The school was founded in Cuba but when fidel castro expelled the Jesuits (that educated him, he is an alumnus of the schoool) they re-opened in Miami. Belen has been educating Catholic leaders in our community for more than 40 years. The school is recognized as being among the top ones academically in South Florida. I was shocked and disgusted when an email came across my desk this morning alerting me to the tactics that the Archdiocese has used in order to extort an agreement from the school that it does not directly control.

The following excerpt is from an email sent to me by someone extremely close to the situation. I am not divulging the identity of the author because that person has not authorized me to , though that person hasn't prohibited me from doing it either. I'm doing it because I don't want this person to get into trouble, just in case. Emphasis is mine...

About 20 years ago, Belen in good faith signed a quota agreement with the pastors of the parochial schools and the Archdiocese of Miami to limit the number of students Belen could accept from the parochial schools. Belen initially did not want to sign, but they felt obligated because the pastors’ were very upset.

It seems that twenty years later they have continued to lose students. Even though it is a fact that 50% of the kids that leave DO NOT come to Belen but go elsewhere, Belen has been targeted and labeled “the problem” by several pastors of the Archdiocese. When in May the Presbyteral Council met at St. Brendan, the issue with Belen once again resurged and the pastors debated about what to do. Fr. Perez-Lerena, superior of the Miami region Jesuits, asked the Archbishop for a meeting to clarify that we were not the problem and that, on the contrary, they had been educating Catholic leaders in Miami since 1961 and that the Jesuits were very active ministers in the Archdiocese of Miami baptizing, marrying, burying, and blessing their faithful.

The Archbishop decided to allow the parochial school pastors to set up a meeting. While the first one went well, the second meeting held at Belen did not and Belen was threatened then forced to sign an agreement. Fr. Marcelino, Fr. Perez-Lerena, and even several of the pastors and Archdiocesan representatives present were appalled at the way Belen was threatened and bullied. Belen is strongly recommending parents, students, and alumni who have voiced their discontent and asked what they can do to contact the Archbishop.
To put this into context, Fr. Marcelino Garcia, Belen's President, is a very elderly man who has suffered two heart attacks in the past year. Parish PASTORS bullied this old man into signing an agreement on the spot.

These pastors feel threatened by Belen because their parochial schools are losing middle school students in droves. They cannot control other private schools that their kids might go to, but they have targeted Belen. These parish priests, who increasingly resemble mobsters, threatened to have Belen's middle school shut down if the school did not sign the agreement.

The information that I have is that the 3 primary players in this tragedy are the pastors of Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables (Rev. Arthur Dennison), St. Thomas the Apostle (Rev. Daniel Kubala), and Church of the Epiphany (Rev. Msgr. Jude O'Doherty), though another 18 pastors signed a document in solidarity with them.

As a Catholic, I am dsturbed by how our church leaders are treating such honorable men as the Jesuits that educated me, as well as the institution and the parents who want only to provide the best education they can for their kids. When you think about it, they are trying to restrict a parent's choice. Your child may be academically qualified to enter a college prep school but because your pastor is afraid of losing students, he will be denied. The child may not be able to enter later, after middle school, because the number of openings at Belen between 8th and 9th grades is minimal. This short sighted approach by these mafioso priests will result in parents having to choose between a Catholic elementary education or a Catholic Middle/High School education instead of both. For me the choice would be easy.

There is a shortage of space in Catholic elementary schools. In order to get your child in you have be vetted, make donations of time and money to the church, have a smart kid, and get lucky. If it's true that these parochial schools lose so many students at the middle school level, then it's apparent to me this boils down to an economic issue and a classic example of misapplied resources.

If the parochial schools were to re-allocate their resources to lower grades where demand is greater they would be meeting a market need. It's obvious that given an open market (with none of these restricting agreements) that the parochial schools can't compete at the middle school level. And it's not just Belen, as was previously mentioned. Boys and girls are leaving to other schools that are viewed as superior by the consumers (the parents). So why not do what you do best? Provide a solid Catholic education for grades K-5 by increasing the number of such homerooms and reducing the number of homerooms in grades 6-8. I guess it's too logical for people that weren't educated by Jesuits.

Canon law is very clear about the parents right to educational choice:
"Can. 793 §1 Parents, and those who take their place, have both the obligation and the right to educate their children. Catholic parents have also the duty and the right to choose those means and institutes which, in their local circumstances, can best promote the catholic education of their children."
And so is Vatican II:

From the Declaration on Christian Education GRAVISSIMUM EDUCATIONIS proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965 (Second Vatican Council): "Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools." (n. 6)

If you are as disgusted as I am, I urge you to contact Archbishop John C. Favalora at:

9401 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami Shores, Florida 33138
Dade (305) 757-6241
Broward (954) 525-5157


Songuacassal said...

Because Belen is a "School in Exile" as they call it, Belen happens to attract much more people with it's Cuban roots.

I too am disgusted by these politics and am gladly emailing Archbishop ASAP.

Glad to see you've been reading Vatican II!

Albert Quiroga said...

I think these extortionist tactics coming from the corrupt bowels of so-called "Catholic leadership" are one of the factors that led me to switch to the Lutheran church years ago! And let me tell you, it may not be perfect, but I do not feel constantly pressured and "bullied," as some of my practicing Catholic relatives are, into "donating" time and money in order to be granted "privileges" of a Catholic education. Although Belen is not my school, I know it to be a great school, with a great tradition. Friends and family, going back to Cuba's Belen, have benefitted from the excellent education received there. I hope the parents and the faculty fight back hard against these mobsters in clerical garb.

Mike said...

As a Belen alumnus myself, I appreciate your passion and agree with you that the archdiocese's maneuver is reprehensible. However, I do have to say that I don't particularly like your tone in this piece. You should not resort to calling these men villains for starters. All in all they are good mean that I know have done MANY good things for MANY people including many graduates of Belen and their families. Furthermore, your cynical remark about the cost of Epiphany's church is also a bit out of touch. I don't think Belen is in ANY position these days to be criticizing schools spending money on facilities given the tremendous amount of expansion occurring in Belen over the course of the last few years.

Continue to fight the good fight, but keep your emotions in check and don't resport to childish tactics such as name-calling and cynicism b/c it detracts from your message and goal.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Mike, I have edited the original post slightly as a result of your comments.