Catholic Diocese Announces Layoffs

By Trevor Wilhelm
Windsor Star
November 7, 2007

Sex abuse claims, outstanding debt from World Youth Day and restoration of a London cathedral have forced the Roman Catholic London Diocese to cut jobs and streamline operations to save $400,000 a year.

"We cannot deny that there have been significant pressures on our finances in recent years," Bishop Ronald Fabbro wrote in a recent letter to the diocese. "These pressures have resulted from a significant contribution to support World Youth Day locally and nationally, from a substantial financial commitment to the restoration of our cathedral, and from lawsuits for sexual abuse and efforts to provide support and counselling for the victims. These expenses are nevertheless rooted in the demands of justice and compassion, and in our desire to share with others the riches we have received."

Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the Diocese of London
Photo by Star file photo

Larry Brennan, the diocese's episcopal director of administrative services, said 22 out of 70 non-parish positions will be affected, but the aim is to shuffle about half of those displaced people into different jobs. He said four regional offices, including one in Windsor, will be closed.

But Brennan said the establishment of the new St. Peter's Institute for Catholic Formation, which will have a presence in Windsor, will provide the services of the old offices and provide more.

The diocese's outstanding debt includes half the projected $5.2-million cost of a restoration project for St. Peter's cathedral and $1.2 million for its contribution to the Pope's World Youth Day in Canada from 2002.

At least 40 lawsuits have stemmed from the decades of abuse inflicted on young girls by the late Rev. Charles Sylvestre alone.

The diocese has settled twelve lawsuits, according to its website. Brennan wouldn't reveal how much the lawsuits have cost, saying he was respecting the victims' right to privacy. He said insurance will pay for some of it.

"It has exacerbated our financial situation," said Brennan.

He said the lawsuits mean the diocese must funnel the proceeds from sales of excess property away from church work.

The properties up for sale include Fabbro's nine-bedroom house. The asking price is $850,000. The diocese has already sold other properties, including a chunk of land near Brescia College in London and a house in Elginfield.

Brennan stressed that only non-parish property is being sold to pay for sex abuse lawsuits.

In his letter last month, Fabbro said several offices and ministries will be combined under a "new, more streamlined diocesan structure," to be more accountable and effective. He said a similar process has been undertaken in recent years at St. Peter's Seminary in London.

"These changes attempt to mirror on the diocesan level the financial and personnel realities of our parishes," Fabbro wrote.

The new Institute for Catholic Formation will offer already existing laity and deacon training, ongoing "in-service" faith formation for pastoral leaders and courses at sites across the diocese.

"There has been a real hunger expressed for parishioners to learn more about their faith," said Brennan. "We realize the need to have offerings of programs across the diocese."


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