Catholic school closing forces wedge into community

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – The closing of St. Bernadette Catholic School is tearing a rift into the Orchard Park community.

Father Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette, called out his own Diocese Friday night for what he calls a “rotten,” “flawed” and “dishonest” process that will see his school closed. But what has driven a wedge into the parish is whether or not to give up the fight to keep the school open.

“There was dishonesty, deceit, politics and other elements of this flawed process,” Rev. Seil said.

He says when this process began last Fall, the Secretary for Catholic Education Carol Kostyniak told him that at least one school, Our Lady of Victory, was off the table and could not be considered for closure.

“Ms. Kostyniak wagged her finger at me and warned me that I was ‘under the seal of confession,’ that it would be on my head if the information got out and the process failed,” Rev. Seil said.

St. Bernadette is one of 10 Catholic schools that have been selected for closure. And while the school has filed an appeal with the Vatican, Rev. Seil has declared that, after consulting with lawyers and other priests, St. Bernadette will not go forward with a civil suit asking for a stay until the Vatican rules.

“This effort was to actually allow, potentially, New York State courts to make that decision, not us have to make that decision for him to whether or not those rules were followed,” said Sean Spiesz, president of the school advisory board.

But Rev. Seil calls it a fight they cannot win.

“I disagree,” said parent Bridget Pacholec. “I think Father Paul needs to stand up to the bishop. We were all behind him. We’re all losers in this. And nothing that the bishop has done is strengthening Catholic education. I’m tired, I’m angry that all of these childless people are deciding my children’s future. It’s wrong.”

Rev. Seil pointed to a church in Lockport that closed six years ago, but still hasn’t gotten an answer from the Vatican on their appeal.

He says this process has turned members of the parish against one another, saying “traitor” is used to describe anyone who wants to drop the civil suit. And though some claim he doesn’t have a spine for not challenging the bishop, Rev. Seil says he is confident he has done everything he could to save the school.

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