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Pontiff Extols Church Schools In Address

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Pope John Paul II alternately praised and cautioned Roman Catholic educators last week, extolling the role of parochial schools in American education and advising teachers concerned about low salaries not to consider the church as "merely an employer."

The Pontiff made the comments on employment to Catholic-school administrators and religion teachers in New Orleans Sept. 12, the third day of his 10-day swing through the American South and West.

Later, in Los Angeles, the Pope joined with Nancy Reagan to visit a ''typical" inner-city parochial school serving mostly Hispanic students.

The Pope's speech to school administrators in New Orleans culminated a four-day meeting sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association that focused on financial and management problems besetting parochial schools in a time of decreasing school-age populations and falling contributions to the church.

"I am aware that not all questions relating to the organization, financing, and administration of Catholic schools in an increasingly complex society have been resolved to the satisfaction of all," the Pontiff said. But in addressing these problems, he said, Catholics should remember that the church's primary mission is a religious one. "It is our privilege to share in" that mission, he added.

"For a Catholic educator, the church should not be looked upon merely as an employer," the Pontiff also said, in an apparent reference to efforts by Catholic teachers to push for higher salaries, and in some cases, to unionize.

Teachers in Catholic schools earn, on average, 60 percent to 75 percent of what public-school teachers earn, which some administrators say contributes to high faculty turnover rate. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1987.)

At the same time, the Pope lauded the financial sacrifices American Catholics have made to operate a school system that teaches nearly 3 million students in parochial schools and another 5 million in parish religious-education programs.

"Rising costs may call for new approaches," he continued, "new forms of partnership and sharing, new uses of financial resources."

In a reference to the inner-city Catholic schools, the Pope urged school administrators, bishops, priests, and members of religious orders to continue to "provide quality Catholic education for the poor of all races and national backgrounds, even at the cost of great sacrifice."

At the Immaculate Conception School in west Los Angeles Sept. 16, the Pope told the 320 students, most of whom are children of recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America, that pupils in Catholic schools have included "the children of immigrants from every race and from every nation, and indeed from many different religious denominations."

He told them the most important thing to learn in Catholic school is religion.

Mrs. Reagan preceded the Pope's remarks with warnings to the children about the use of drugs.

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