Diocese Slicing Budget by $500k

By Albert McKeon
The Telegraph [New Hampshire]
Downloaded March 19, 2003

Facing dwindling parishioner donations and limited revenue, the Diocese of Manchester has started making significant budget cuts, directly affecting pastoral programs, employees and the bishop's residence.

The diocese laid off nine employees Tuesday, moving into the final phase of a three-stage plan to trim $500,000 in expenses. That last phase has the diocese about to study which services it can transfer to the parish level.

The diocese will also consider selling two Manchester properties: the bishop's residence and Emmaus House, a youth ministry retreat. And the diocese could eliminate its monthly print newspaper, Tidings, whose editor just lost his job.

"We're in the process of reconfiguring," diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said. "We want to put more emphasis on parishes and laity."

Bishop John McCormack suggested as much last month, when he outlined a plan calling for greater lay involvement. McCormack presented the plan as a means of moving the Catholic Church in New Hampshire beyond the clergy abuse crisis.

That crisis, and specifically about $6 million paid in settlements to abuse victims, has depleted the diocese's savings, McGee said. Parishioner donations have also dwindled and will likely remain low, he said.

The clergy abuse crisis, a slow economy and stock market losses have probably led parishioners to reduce their contributions, McGee said. The diocese also lost revenue with its endowed funds when the stock market went sour, he said.

"We know collections will be down," McGee said. "It's hard to say (how much). We don't have totally accurate reports

. . . but it means we have to make changes now."

The diocese has not used parish funds to settle civil litigation, including any money from the diocesan central fund, McGee said. Parishes place money into the central fund and then borrow, at a rate lower than rates offered commercially, for the construction or repair of buildings.

Cutting $500,000 from the diocese's $2.5 million operating budget does not include the potential sales of the bishop's residence or Emmaus House. Rather, only operating expenses from those properties figure into the $500,000 savings, McGee said.

The diocese owns both buildings, but the bishop's residence was a gift. The retreat house is valued at $766,100, while the house is valued at $633,300, according to the city of Manchester's Web site.

Attorneys for the diocese will now figure out how to sell the property while honoring the intention of the donor, McGee said. The bishop will move out in June, but he has not determined where he will live next, McGee said.

Emmaus House will hold retreats and functions until June. The building serves as a center for the diocese's youth ministry programs.

The diocese's plan to reduce expenses means a shifting of such programs to the parish level, McGee said. The diocese will soon establish a task force that will work with all parishes and determine which programs can be transferred, he said.

The diocese will still handle programs that demand central organization, such as the recruitment and training of priests, Catholic education and insurance issues. The diocese thus becomes more of an administrative outfit, while handling pastoral and ministerial issues that are out of the purview of parishes.

Parishes will take on a greater burden with the fiscal reorganization. McGee would not speculate on which services would fall to the parish level, but he said the task force would work extensively with parishes to properly evaluate which programs they could handle.

Most parishioners already do not think in terms of which services the diocese can provide them, McGee said. Instead, they think at the parish level, he said.

Another task force will evaluate the diocese's communication efforts. That will include examining the vitality of Tidings, McGee said.

The paper's editor, John Haywood, learned Tuesday that he had lost his job. According to Haywood, the diocese has already decided it will cease publication of the monthly paper.

"It has been a good vehicle to get out the word," said Haywood, who worked for the diocese for nine years. "It had a lot of good stories. Unfortunately, the crisis in the church is taking its toll. It's too bad it has to go to this extreme."

McGee, however, said the task force reviewing communications would help determine the fate of Tidings. But the diocese could see greater benefits through its Web site instead of the print version, he said.

The nine employees who lost their jobs received severance packages and job placement services, McGee said.

Eliminating their positions and the diocesan museum director position - which became vacant recently when that person resigned - marked the second stage in the reconfiguration.

The first step came in July, when the diocese did not fill vacant positions and started cutting operating expenses, McGee said. In all, 20 full- and part-time positions have been eliminated, a 25 percent reduction in the diocesan work force, he said.

The diocese will maintain its use of a public relations firm and lawyers, according to sources.

Churches in New Hampshire already face a difficult challenge with the growing clergy shortage, placing a greater emphasis on laity involvement. The diocese has cited the clergy shortage and shifting demographics of the Catholic population as the reasons why it has closed several parishes, including three in Nashua.

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