A diocese sues a Catholic high school

Here's a curious situation: The Diocese of Brooklyn is suing a Catholic high school because it won't hand over a chunk of the proceeds collected from renting a portion of its building to a charter school.

The Brooklyn diocese has been requiring that parishes and schools renting space to charter schools give up 40 percent of the income to help nearby Catholic schools that may suffer financially from the added competition.

Acting on a request from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio agreed in 2009 to help city officials find space for charter schools in Catholic facilities. It seemed questionable to me at the time. Charter schools, with their uniforms and emphasis on discipline, were in some ways emulating Catholic schools -- and they were tuition-free. Installing a charter school inside a Catholic school building would seem to be a sure way to hasten the demise of nearby Catholic schools.

In response to complaints from Catholic educators, the bishop came up with his revenue-sharing plan.

Christ the King H.S. was not willing to go along with this. The diocese had built the school but pulled support for it and most other diocesan high schools in the 1970s. A number of these schools have managed to make it on their own without a diocesan subsidy -- and Christ the King H.S. was not about to be forced to subsidize the diocese.

Christ the King, with its board under the control of conservative politicians in Queens, has engaged in some questionable activities in the past -- especially union-busting in the early 1980s. Some diocesan oversight might have been called for regarding Catholic social teaching. Now, the diocese is suddenly paying very close attention to  business dealings at the school, trying to crack down on lease arrangements it had long encouraged schools to make so they could stay in business.

One wonders what the cost of this dispute will be in terms of legal bills and public relations retainers. It's a mess. Both sides should be embarrassed.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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