Diocese to Reduce Staff, Programs
11 Layoffs Part of Effort to Cut Budget $600k

By David Yonke
Toledo Blade [Toledo OH]
Downloaded May 1, 2004

The Toledo Roman Catholic Diocese, saying it faces declining revenue and rising health-care costs, will lay off 11 staff members and cut some programs to slash $600,000 from its $6.7 million fiscal budget.

Church officials blamed the financial squeeze on falling donations from its 314,000 parishioners, a drop in investment income, a decline in the assessments it charges parishes, and increased health-care costs.

"The state of the economy, coupled with other factors, has had a significant effect on voluntary contributions," Bishop Leonard Blair said.

At least part of the financial pressure was attributed to the church's continuing crisis over clerical sexual abuse.

"I'm sure some people are not giving because of that," said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the 19-county diocese.

The Rev. Michael Billian, episcopal vicar, said the diocese's payments to abuse victims and legal fees are not the cause of the layoffs.

"If there had been no payments, we would still be cutting spending," he said.

On March 31, the diocese reached out-of-court settlements with 12 people who sued over allegations of sexual abuse. One attorney representing the plaintiffs said the total of the settlements was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At least 11 more lawsuits are pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Father Billian said payments to abuse victims and legal fees come from the diocese's self-insurance fund. Bishop Blair acknowledged in February, however, that the self-insurance fund is part of the diocese's operating costs, which are funded in part by individual donations.

The layoffs will affect employees in pastoral ministry, schools, and Catholic charities. Laid-off workers will receive severance packages and health insurance for three months.

The diocese has 212 employees, according to Ms. Oberski.

Bishop Blair, in Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II, said the diocese reached 72 percent of its $3.7 million goal for the annual financial appeal even though only 16 percent of parishioners have contributed.

On Monday, the diocese will send letters to the approximately 87,000 households in

the diocese that have not yet donated to the annual financial appeal, asking them to make a donation, Ms. Oberski said.

"This is a difficult decision," Bishop Blair said of the layoffs, "especially inasmuch as it touches very directly the livelihood of the employees involved.

"But I believe it is a necessary one."

He plans to form a study panel to look into the financial situation for staffing and programs.


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