SOL reform is not reason parochial schools close

Debunking The Catholic Church Latest Myth

Posted on Aug 8, 2013 2:32pm PDT

Why Survivor Lawsuits Have No Connection To Catholic School Closures


In its most recent attempt to deny survivors of childhood sexual abuse the remuneration they deserve, the Catholic Church is attempting to link the newly proposed statute of limitations outlined in SB 131 to a ignificant financial burden on the state of California via the public school system. Essentially, they argue that more lawsuits would force them to divert resources from their private, Catholic schools to survivors, in turn, forcing them to close these Catholic schools. The effect, then, would be an influx of students to the public school system, and ultimately, more costs for the state of California.

While the Church is correct in it’s observation that private, Catholic schools are in decline both in California, and nationally, there is no logical connection between their closures and the lawsuits brought by victims of childhood sexual abuse. Rather, this decline nationally, and in California, can be attributed to a number of factors, including: (1) the economic recession, (2) middle income families’ flight from urban areas, (3) and the rise of charter schools.

The Economic Recession

  • Between 1970 and 1990, Catholic schools lost 75% of their religious faculty. This has forced Catholic schools to hire secular faculty who demand salaries commensurate with their public school counterparts. This has forced tuition at Catholic schools to rise, triggering enrollment declines and ultimately, school closings.[1]
  • “For Catholic parents, tuition is a key factor, a 2006 NCEA report suggests. The national study, performed from 2000 to 2005 by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, found that, among a randomized sample of about 1,400 parents with school-age children who attended Catholic services, 44 percent reported that insufficient tuition aid was “somewhat” or “very much” a problem.”[2]

Middle Income Families’ Flight From Urban Areas

  • In the latter part of the 20th Century, white Catholics participated in the mass migration from urban city centers to the suburbs. They were, for the most part, replaced by African-Americans, who proportionally, are much less Catholic. This caused a dearth of Catholics in the inner-city areas where parish schools were, and still are, predominantly located.[3]
  • The twenty dioceses with the largest catholic school enrollment lost students from 1960 to 1990 in proportion to the decline in the white population in their central cities.[4]

The Rise of Charter Schools

  • The 2012-2013 academic school year marked the first time that more students were enrolled in charter schools than catholic schools.[5]
  • In a 2006 study of enrollment dynamics of private and charter schools in Michigan, the authors found that for every three students gained by a charter school, one came from a private school.[6]
  • As Rev. Ronald J. Nuzzi, the director of the Alliance For Catholic Education, put it, “For the most part, when you offer an alternative to the mainstream [public] school free of charge, it can be a threat to Catholic schools, which charge tuition.”[7]

Why Survivor Lawsuits Do Not Contribute To Catholic School Closures

  • Catholic schools have been closing and continue to close all over the country. “Between 2000 and 2013, 2,090 Catholic schools closed or consolidated, and the number of students has declined by 651,300.”[8] These closures necessarily include schools in parishes that have not had to respond to lawsuits brought by survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
  • Despite claims to the contrary, as of 2010 Church donations were up by $2.2 billion (adjusted for inflation) from the previous decade. However, with the growing amount of money taken in by the Catholic church has come a significant drop in the amount used to subsidize Catholic schools. In 1965, the Church paid 63% of parochial elementary school costs. Presently, they pay 12.6%.[9]


This specific argument promulgated by the Catholic Church is nothing more than an attempt to pin SB 131 on a problem that has been taking place for the last 50 years. Catholic schools have been closing, and enrollment has been declining since the 1960’s for the reasons outlined above. This isn’t a problem that was created by survivor lawsuits, nor have these lawsuits exacerbated the problem. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find any circumstance in which a school was closed in direct response to survivor lawsuits for sexual abuse, even in dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy in response to survivor lawsuits. The latest of the Church’s fallacious arguments is a desperate attempt to deceive lawmakers, and should be disregarded entirely.


2. Education Week

3. James, John T., et al. “Developing a predictive metric to assess school viability.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice 11.4 (2008).

4. Jeffrey A. McLellan, Rise, Fall and Reasons Why: U.S. Catholic Elementary Education, 1940-1955, in CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AT THE CROSSROADS 17, 29 (James Youniss & John J. Convey eds., 2000).

5. Lexington Institute

6. Education Week

7. Education Week

8. Education Week

9. New York Times