sees hope amid challenges
Parish leadership updated on state of archdiocese
By Brian T. Olszewski
St. Francis - Calling this "a hopeful time of the year," Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan hosted another of the periodic conference calls he has with pastors, parish directors, and their staffs Sept. 8 in order to keep them up to date on developments in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Dominating the 45-minute session was the financial condition of the archdiocese.
"Alleluia," he said, speaking about the progress that has been made in the Faith in Our Future $105 million capital campaign.
He reported that the 71 parishes that had participated in the pilot portion and first wave of the campaign, as well as major gifts, accounted for the $35 million raised.
"We're well ahead of where we thought we'd be," he said, noting that the second wave will include 71 parishes and the final wave will have 89.
Archbishop Dolan said that the three goals of the campaign - raising money; enhancing sense of stewardship; and re-establishing "sense of community, camaraderie, confidence and cohesion in our Catholic community" - have taken hold.
The archbishop said that one of the concerns that he and pastors had about the Faith in Our Future campaign was that it would have a negative impact upon the Catholic Stewardship Appeal and parish collections.
"RSI (the consulting firm overseeing the capital campaign) assured the archdiocese that the capital campaign would help parish weekly collections and the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, and they are right," he said, reporting that the CSA has collected $6.549 million - more than $40,000 ahead of where it was last year at this time.
Noting that the archdiocese "lives paycheck to paycheck," and that the elimination of 38 archdiocesan central office jobs means "we can't serve you as well as we'd like," the archbishop offered encouraging financial news.
"Without dulling the realism of the fact that we're pretty strapped, we're also sound. It looks as if we're going to be close to a balanced budget this year," he said. "We still have a projected deficit of $300,000, but last year, we were looking at a deficit of $3 million."
Archbishop Dolan termed the sale of the Cousins Center to Cardinal Stritch University "cause for rejoicing."
"It's not final yet, but it is really looking good," he said, adding that the deal would probably close early in 2009.
A contingency within the sale agreement is that the archdiocese will lease space from Stritch for two years. During that time, the archbishop expects to move ahead on what had been under consideration more than a year ago - consolidating the archdiocesan central offices on the campus of Saint Francis Seminary.
"Our dream remains the same. What we'd like to do is consolidate all the central offices of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary," he said. "This makes eminent sense. Saint Francis Seminary would benefit from this, help them with their overhead."
One thing that could have an impact upon the archdiocese's financial future is what Archbishop Dolan termed a "litigation mess" - seven lawsuits involving nine claimants who want to sue the archdiocese for fraud in cases involving former priests, Sigfried Widera, Lawrence Murphy and Franklyn Becker
The archbishop did not have a timeframe, nor did he know if the cases would go to trial or if they would be mediated, but he said the archdiocese would bear the brunt of any verdict because insurance companies do not cover claims for fraud.
"However it is resolved, according to the courts, it is going to cost us money. It is going to be a big financial hit to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. How much? We don't know," he said.
Archbishop Dolan said that the archdiocese's policies and work regarding protection of youth and children had recently undergone their annual audit by an outside firm, and that they again graded A. He noted that while the U.S. bishops, as a group, had said that audits of these programs only needed to be conducted every three years, he remains committed to having it done annually.
"We have to keep the renewal, purification and hard work going," he said of the archdiocese's protection policies.
Archbishop Dolan addressed two initiatives that began in 2007 - "Living Our Faith" and "Vision 21."
"Living Our Faith" will continue this fall with monthly parish bulletin inserts, a special section of the Catholic Herald that will be distributed to more than 150,000 households around the beginning of Advent, and the resumption of the "Living Our Faith" TV show featuring Archbishop Dolan.
The archbishop said he is "on the brink" of approving the Vision 21 report that had been developed by Fr. Jim Connell in consultation with individuals and groups throughout the archdiocese. The archbishop will seek feedback from various consultative bodies before announcing his position on the document.
Noting that planning in the archdiocese would never end, he said, "We
have to put this planning at the service of evangelization, growth and
holiness, meeting the pastoral challenges that we hear from our people
in the 21st century."
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