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Some in shock over deep L.A. cuts

Los Angeles

Callers to the Los Angeles archdiocesan ministries offices were mainly talking to message tapes by Sept. 24, two weeks after the archdiocese told employees of huge staff cuts ahead.

The axe falls mid-October on more than 60 employees when departments serving college students, African-American Catholics, Asian and Pacific Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, and gay and lesbian Catholics, Catholics with disabilities and the pro-life office are shuttered.

The education department is being cut back, but some services, such as those to adolescents, continue.

In other departments, such as Detention Ministries, staffs have been decreased by 50 percent. For example, one priest will now serve Los Angeles’ “Twin Towers” downtown jails that hold 11,000 inmates. Detention Ministries previously offered 21 Masses and Communion services each Sunday in each tower.

To protest the cutbacks, two veteran department heads have resigned, though their jobs were not in jeopardy. Tom Chabolla, head of the Secretariat for Pastoral and Community Services, and St. Joseph Sr. Suzanne Jabro, director of Detention Ministries, submitted their resignations after meeting with their staffs.

The archdiocese, the nation’s largest, is pleading an income shortfall from declining Wall Street investments. An NCR check of other archdioceses nationwide showed that, while other regions are facing tight budgets, few other archdioceses are cutting ministries entirely.

San Francisco cut its 2002-03 fiscal year budget by 7 percent, said a spokesperson, but no employees were laid off.

New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan inherited a financial mess plus a $20 million annual operating deficit from his predecessor, Cardinal John O’Connor. Consequently, 23 New York employees were laid off earlier this year and 11 ministerial offices closed.

New York’s 2002-03 budget projects no operating deficit. Said spokesperson Joe Zwilling, “The archdiocese is affected like anyone else by the stock market, but not to the point that had an impact on ministries.”

When New York closed ministry offices, the services provided were simultaneously restructured, he said. The Italian apostolate, for example, that previously had its own office, is now handled by two priests who are also pastors.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who refused to talk to NCR, told the Los Angeles Times that the ministries will be picked up by local deaneries or parishes. There was some uncertainty as to whether Mahony had informed his regional bishops of the cutbacks in advance.

Spokesperson Tod Tamberg said it was his understanding they were notified. Two employees who called their regional bishops for help with the curtailed ministries said they were told by those bishops this was the first they’d heard of it. There was no advance parish planning for taking up the ministerial slack.

The Boston archdiocese, faced with massive clerical sexual abuse case settlements, earlier this year cut 15 jobs. The archdioceses of Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Milwaukee and Santa Fe, N.M., report no ministry cutbacks or layoffs.

There have been no cuts in the Washington archdiocese, and none anticipated; Cincinnati says, “the collapse of the stock market is a concern” but they don’t anticipate cutbacks.

In Miami, 16 jobs were cut, though at least four of the staffers were hired at the parish level. In a May 30, 2002, column, Miami Archbishop John Favalora said he faced a choice between cutting subsidies to poor parishes or cutting pastoral center services.

Nationwide, rank-and-file Catholics may be cutting back on their giving anyway. Manchester, N.H., Bishop John B. McCormack told his local paper he blamed the sex abuse crisis and the sagging economy for “lighter collection baskets” and unsuccessful fundraising campaigns.

In Los Angeles, departing employees attribute the financial shortfall to a combination of factors: payouts to-date for the sex abuse settlements, anticipation of more sex abuse settlements ahead as cases are prepared, costs allied to the new $190 million cathedral, and declining income from investments.

Departing employees still on the L.A. archdiocesan payroll appeared reluctant to take calls. It is not yet known what the various ministries are saying to their constituencies about planning for the future. But one employee commented that psychologically “the hardest hit was ethnic ministries [to blacks, Hispanics and Asians]. They are in shock.”

In Los Angeles, minorities constitute the majority.

National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2002