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A Vatican ruling has affirmed Bishop Richard J. Malone’s decision to close several Catholic elementary schools in June.

Parishioners and parents affiliated with St. Bernadette School in Orchard Park, St. Francis of Assisi School in the City of Tonawanda and St. Mary of the Lake School in Hamburg filed formal appeals with the Vatican, hoping their efforts would force Malone to reverse his decision.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education denied the appeals in three separate, but similar letters that backed the bishop’s plans for Catholic schools.

Malone expressed relief, and he encouraged parents to move beyond the closings he announced in January. Ten elementary schools in all are slated to be shut down in June. Parents from the seven other schools did not submit a formal appeal.

“I am relieved that the Congregation for Catholic Education has upheld my decision, which was based on extensive research and analysis,” Malone said in a statement. “It reinforces the authority of the diocesan bishop to make decisions of this nature and reflects my obligation as bishop to take into consideration all Catholic education in Western New York when determining the reconfiguration of our Catholic elementary schools. Now that the Vatican has ruled on this matter, I encourage the parents from St. Bernadette, St. Francis and St. Mary of the Lake schools to enroll their children in neighboring Catholic elementary schools, where they will continue to receive a superior education.”

At least one of the appealing parties, Mark E. Saltarelli, a lawyer and parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi who has been highly critical of Malone, said he and others are not ready to give up on saving the school.

“The bottom line here is this is not over with,” he said. “The decision of the bishop is unjust. It was based on bad data, bad geography and poor planning.”

Saltarelli said he already has been in contact with a canon lawyer to pursue further recourse under Catholic canon law.

All three letters were dated April 28 and signed by Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Donald Busha, a member of the St. Mary of the Lake school board, said he had not yet seen the letter, but was aware of the decision.

“We kind of knew it was a long shot, but we thought our arguments were very valid,” he said. “A lot of people feel this whole process was flawed to one degree or another, and yet they stuck with the decisions.”

Busha said he wasn’t sure whether parents and parishioners would continue attempts to reverse Malone’s decision.

“I’m just very, very disappointed in the whole process,” he said. “It’s really disheartening. It’s jaded my view of the diocese and their decision-making process.”

In the letters, Zani wrote that Malone’s decision to close the schools was “part of the diocesan plan for the viability and good distribution of Catholic schools of the diocese.”

He also pointed out the bishop and a school revitalization committee “have taken care that the faithful can still have a Catholic school education” at several other schools within a few miles of those that are closing.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com