Fairbanks Catholic Diocese Asking for Financial Help

By Mary Beth Smetzer
August 19, 2009

FAIRBANKS — A special donation appeal is being made by Fairbanks Catholic Bishop Donald Kettler to Outside diocesan contributors to keep the Fairbanks Catholic missionary diocese afloat.

The request recently went out in a bulk mailing to 55,000 addresses of diocesan supporters around the country and beyond.

Kettler cited the reasons for the diocese’s fiscal crisis and his special appeal as stemming from legal costs of bankruptcy reorganization; rising fuel and maintenance costs; staff travel expenses to cover the sprawling diocese; and the national economic downturn which has decimated investment returns.

Although Kettler calls the letter a “special request” for donations, he said it is not unusual.

“We stay alive because of letters like this. This is how we provide for our missionary work. It’s through donors. That’s how we survive as a missionary diocese,” Kettler said.

During the last half dozen years, the diocese has incurred millions of dollars in attorney fees dealing with about 300 lawsuits alleging clerical sexual abuse of minors and in its ongoing reorganization after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2008.

“The clock is always ticking on attorney fees,” diocesan chancellor Robert Hannon said. “I know we have incurred more than $2 million in fees to date and part has been paid from a loan and proceeds from the sale of property. Some of the fees won’t be paid until the reorganization concludes.”

Diocesan belt tightening began in May when employees took a 20 percent salary reduction and shortened work hours with the chancery closing its doors on Monday. Other unnecessary expenses were cut back, and employees in regional centers made separate cutbacks.

In his July letter, Kettler wrote, “I have had to simply eliminate some of my support staff and some of our diocesan programs.”

Cut were three full-time positions: senior accountant, maintenance assistant and engineering management associate, and a part-time Alaskan Shepherd clerk.

The librarian/archives clerk post was reduced to part time, and the remaining Alaskan Shepherd clerks’ work hours were reduced to 30 hours per week. The bishop, executive secretary, chancellor and receptionist have taken a 20 percent pay cut and the director of finance, a 25 percent pay cut.

At the beginning of July, the Office of Worship and the Office of Children and Family Life at the chancery were closed.

Those positions will now be served on a contract only basis, Hannon said.

However, the Tribunal Office will take over the key responsibilities of victim assistance coordination instituted earlier this decade after numerous clerical sexual abuse suits were levied against the diocese.

After declaring bankruptcy, the diocese spent a year working out a reorganization plan that was filed with the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court on April 2.

“We hope that all our efforts with reorganization will eventually lead to healing by everyone who has been hurt by this whole situation,” Kettler said.


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