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Spotlight Report

Cardinal mandates 30 percent budget cuts

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 1/23/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, saying the recession is hurting church finances, has ordered archdiocesan agencies to cut spending by 30 percent over the next two years. Church officials insist that the cuts, which will go into effect in July, are unrelated to sexual abuse by clergy, which has cost the Catholic Church millions of dollars.

"All settlements, therapy for victims, and legal costs for all sexual abuse cases have come from the insurance program of the archdiocese," said church spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey. "No capital campaign, Cardinal's Appeal, or Sunday collection funds have been or will be used for this purpose."

Law ordered the cuts in a letter to church employees 11 weeks ago, Morrissey said. The cuts were not made public at the time, but Morrissey confirmed them yesterday in response to an inquiry by the Globe.

The cuts will affect the church's central administration, which provides funds for Catholic high schools, health care services, and a variety of chancery offices, including those serving black Catholics, young adults, and people with disabilities. Most parishes and elementary schools are largely self-sufficient, and Catholic Charities raises most of its funding on its own.

The church's current annual budget for services administered by the central office is $43 million.

Morrissey said the cuts, which will result in staff reductions, are being made in response to recommendations from an archdiocesan finance council. In his letter, Law said the reductions are needed to balance the church budget.

"We are evaluating areas where we can consolidate and streamline the delivery of services to our parishes, institutions, and agencies," Law wrote. "We will examine labor costs since it is our single largest expense, and this will involve reductions in staff in the future. We are going to offer a program of voluntary early retirement for lay personnel and, whenever possible, we will reduce payroll costs by attrition."

The cuts come as the archdiocese is attempting to raise an unprecedented amount of money amidst a recession and a wave of negative publicity over the church's handling of clergy sexual abuse.

A former priest, John J. Geoghan, was convicted Friday of one count of indecent assault, and is accused in civil lawsuits of molesting more than at least 130 boys, in some cases after Law had been warned that Geoghan was a pedophile. Another priest, the Rev. Kelvin E. Iguabita, last week was arrested and charged with raping a 15-year-old girl in the rectory of his Haverhill church.

Law plans to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse today, in a closed-door speech to a conference of archdiocesan priests at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Morrissey, asked how much money the church has spent on clergy sexual abuse cases, said "that information is not available at this time." She gave the same answer when asked whether Law is doing separate fund-raising to help pay for any costs associated with clergy sexual abuse.

Church officials insist that neither the economy nor the sexual abuse scandals are harming fund-raising, but some church supporters are worried.

"One-third of Europe's Catholics were lost in the 16th century, not because of an embrace of Protestant theology, but because of popular opposition to clerical scandals," said C.J. Doyle, president of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. "So we should not underestimate the gravity of anything of this sort."

According to Morrissey, the church has already raised more than $150 million toward its $300 million capital campaign, which is the largest ever attempted by an American diocese. The church also has raised $16 million toward the annual Cardinal's Appeal, which supports 80 programs and ministries of the archdiocese. Morrissey said the fund-raising is ahead of expectations, but other church officials said the annual appeal has consistently been less than it should be for an archdiocese as large as Boston, and that that is part of the reason for the cutbacks.

Priests said they have not yet seen any evidence that the clergy sexual abuse scandal is affecting Sunday collections.

"I haven't seen any change, and I don't expect there will be," said the Rev. Walter H. Cuenin, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton, who said his church's Sunday collection has been up this year. "While there's concern about the whole issue, most people have respect for their own parishes. It's something like the way people like their congressmen and don't like Congress. While they might have issues with the church, for the most part they like their parishes and their own parish priests."

Monsignor Frederick J. Murphy, rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where Law preaches every Sunday, also said he has seen no drop off in giving because of the clergy sexual abuse issue.

"Sunday collection has been normal," he said. "And I'm just at the end of the capital campaign, and I've met the goal for my parish. I've been very encouraged."

Sister Kathleen Carr, the Catholic schools superintendent, refused to speak about how the cutbacks will affect the archdiocese's high schools, which are supported not only by the archdiocese, but also by tuition and other sources. But Murphy, who helps oversee Cathedral High School, said he is concerned that his school may need to cut programs or staff, and that the school will attempt to increase enrollment to prevent such cuts.

Catholic Charities president Joseph Doolin said the archdiocesan cuts will have minimal impact on church social services, which are largely paid for through government grants and separate fund-raising. But, he said, a tight state budget will cause cutbacks, and he said his agency is considering closing some programs in Brockton, where it already closed two programs last year.

Doolin said he does not expect Catholic Charities, with its 25,000 donors, to be affected by the clergy sexual abuse issue.

"It's too soon to be sure, but my gut tells me that, as horrible as the fallout has been, and as horrible as things are for the victims and their families, I don't see Catholic Charities' supporters penalizing our food pantries, our AIDS programs, and that kind of thing," he said. "I would be very surprised if that happened."

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/23/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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