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    Thursday, May 23, 2024

    Hartford’s new archbishop eyes the poverty factory

    When he was installed two weeks ago, Hartford’s new Catholic archbishop, Christopher J. Coyne, said he has several big objectives, though he conceded that with two of them he may be dreaming.

    Coyne’s most practical objective is simply restoring the local church and regaining parishioners. "In recent years," Coyne said, "we have given folks no shortage of causes to walk away from the faith — parish closings, the abuse scandal and associated betrayals by leaders who should have known and done better, and pastoral approaches that at times have done more to judge people than serve them."

    The archbishop can’t undo those scandals but he can be candid about them and make sure that the wrath of God quickly falls — publicly — on any agents of the archdiocese who betray their trust.

    As for unhappy judgments on people, archbishops are stuck with church doctrines that many think contradict modernity, like the refusal to ordain women or sanction same-sex relationships. Given the conservative bent of the places where the church is growing, those doctrines are unlikely to be changed soon.

    Not that modernity is always right. Indeed, the basic Catholic morality of old is less primitive than today’s morality of anything goes. It wasn’t entirely because of religious doctrine, but Connecticut was better before state government started pushing gambling and marijuana on the public and pretending men can be women and vice-versa.

    Sad as Catholic parish closings are, ripping roots out of the community and leaving empty buildings as stark monuments to a vanished era, the decline in church membership requires closings and it has not been caused primarily by the scandals. While spirituality is not dead in the developed world, religious dogma is losing adherents fast. Perceptions of the divine today are much broader.

    Fortunately the church has much to offer beyond dogma, starting with the Sermon on the Mount, and evangelical and non-denominational churches are growing. Catholic leaders might study their appeal.

    In his inaugural remarks the new archbishop noted that parish and school closings have left the church with many buildings that might be converted to inexpensive housing, of which Connecticut is desperately short. Of course this is easier said than done. While nearly everyone purports to want the state to have more housing, nearly everyone wants it built somewhere else. The fear of the underclass is real and often justified, as indicated by violent crime and terrible school performance in the cities.

    The new archbishop has an idea about his new city, Hartford, a poverty factory where two high school students were shot to death the other day. His dreamiest objective is to restore Catholic schools in the city — there are none left — and make them tuition-free.

    The excellence of Catholic schools is generally acknowledged. The schools have behavioral discipline and academic standards, which now are virtually prohibited in public schools. Unlike public schools, church schools can choose their students, but they use this freedom not to exclude but to pursue the most motivated students and parents.

    Thus church schools can offer students an escape from the demoralization of city life, and with their better environment they can retain good staff while paying less than public schools.

    Regional public "magnet" schools offer some escape as well but are still somewhat impaired in discipline and academic standards. They also impose more transportation burdens on students and parents than neighborhood schools.

    In any case, as indicated by the litigation of the past quarter-century over school segregation in Hartford, the city and other cities in Connecticut can use much more school choice. The return of Catholic schools could help provide it, but avoiding tuition would require money from somewhere.

    A scholarship program from state government might provide it and educate students better and less expensively than government’s own system, but the teacher unions would never consent, and they run government in Connecticut. They have no interest in improving student performance, reducing poverty and saving money. Only dreamers care about such stuff. Good for the new archbishop for being one.

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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