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Seeking Rome's help for LI Catholic schools

St. John Baptist de La Salle Regional School

St. John Baptist de La Salle Regional School in Farmingdale. (Dec. 5, 2011) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Parents of children at several Catholic grammar schools slated to close next month are taking their cause to Rome to try to persuade the Vatican to reverse the decision by the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The parents have joined forces with canon law specialist Peter Borre, who persuaded the Vatican in March to reverse the closings of 13 parishes in Cleveland. Borre said he is in Rome this week to pursue the Long Island case and shutterings announced by Bishop William Murphy.

"I have volunteered to assist parents of children in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, to determine whether a canonical challenge can be brought against Murphy's closing announcements of last December," Borre said in an email sent from Rome.

Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said that while the diocese shares the parents' sadness over the school closings, declining enrollment made shuttering them inevitable. "They can appeal to anyone they want," he said. "However, that doesn't change the reality of the numbers and the demographic studies."

Some parents contend the diocese did not follow church canon law procedures for closing schools. They said they were never informed by the diocese about the appeals process or given a chance to pursue it.

"The information from the diocese was that there was no avenue for us to appeal and that was patently false," said Joseph Cordero, a parent representative at St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square.

But Dolan said the diocese invited the parents in for meetings after the December announcement and heard their appeals. "We did go above and beyond in terms of listening to the concerns of parents," he said.

Borre has formed a national movement to try to keep parishes from closing and reopen those that have been closed.

It is unclear whether Borre's effort in Rome will be successful. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, said it is easier to close a Catholic grammar school than a parish under canon law.

While stressing the Long Island case "is a complicated local matter," she said in general canon law "provides for recourse against administrative acts of ecclesiastical authority."

The other schools involved in the appeal effort are St. Ignatius Loyola School in Hicksville, Sacred Heart School in Merrick and St. John Baptist De LaSalle Regional School in Farmingdale. Parents at the two other schools being closed, Prince of Peace Regional School in Sayville and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst, have not decided whether to take part.

Joseph Malerba, a parent leader at St. Ignatius, said the appeal to Rome is a last-ditch effort to keep the schools open. "It would have to be some miracle to stay open in September," he said. "It's the last hope, I guess."

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