Louisville Priests Agree to Salary Freeze
Economy, Sex-abuse Lawsuits Hurt Finances of Archdiocese

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded February 7, 2003

More than 100 priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville have voluntarily agreed to freeze their salaries in the coming fiscal year if the archdiocese imposes an expected salary freeze on its lay employees.

The priests issued their pledge as the archdiocese faces a worsening financial situation because of the economic slump and lawsuits over alleged clergy sexual abuse.

"While we couldn't do a lot financially, we wanted to stand in solidarity with the longtime faithful employees of the diocese that will have to bear the results of other people's actions," said the Rev. Nick Rice, president of the Priests' Council of the archdiocese.

To date, 105 priests have signed the "Statement of Support and Solidarity," representing "the vast majority of active priests in the diocese," said Rice, who is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

"I see this action as part of our corporate response not only to fiscal responsibility but above all as an act of prayerful sacrifice for the healing of our church community," the statement said.

The archdiocese will "likely" freeze salaries and is considering job cuts and other options for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer. The archdiocese has had a hiring freeze in place since Jan. 1.

The archdiocese has about 250 employees and a $9.1 million budget for its core 20 agencies, which include central church administration, Catholic Charities, Catholic Cemeteries, and offices for ecumenism, vocations, finance, multicultural ministry and pastoral care.

Like other religious denominations and organizations, the archdiocese is suffering from lower investment returns because of the stock market slump.

But the archdiocese also faces 209 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests and others associated with the church. While the archdiocese is researching its past insurance policies to see if some damages may be covered, the church will likely have to pay at least some claims out of its investments, Reynolds said.

The potential impact may be huge. In the past year, three New England dioceses have reached settlements with victims of abusive priests that totaled $28.5 million.

The Louisville archdiocese has settled three cases so far for undisclosed sums.

The archdiocese's annual Catholic Services Appeal -- a general fundraiser for archdiocesan programs -- is also lagging behind its $3 million goal for the year, Reynolds said. While the archdiocese has sent out one more appeal for money, it has so far raised $2.6 million, about 85 percent of its goal.

"The fact that that is below goal and the fact of the slump in the market provides us with some difficulties," Reynolds said.

Reynolds applauded the priests' decision.

"Obviously, most priests have never abused anyone, and the same with most lay employees, and we're all having to accept the consequences for a small number of individuals," he said. "Together we want to be unified in our response."

Priests who signed the statement have agreed to inform their parish budget committees, Rice said. Each parish has its own budget separate from the archdiocese, though they contribute to the archdiocesan budget.

While parish budgets aren't as directly affected by the abuse crisis, some of them are under strain because of the struggling economy, Rice said.


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