Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Diocese of Buffalo Faces $6 million Deficit


Column for WNY Catholic Weekly by Kevin Keenan :

Economic challenges are everywhere. Workers have been laid off, businesses have closed and the federal government has been mortgaging our future in an attempt to prevent the nation from falling head first into a depression.

Those factors, along with many others, are having a direct impact on diocesan operations. Msgr. David S. Slubecky, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, said the Central Administrative Offices, based at the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo, are operating under a $6 million deficit through July 31.

“With the dramatic decline in the financial markets over the past year comes a reduction in diocesan investment income,” Msgr. Slubecky said. “The recent investment market recovery since mid-March has been a welcome sign; however the diocesan investment portfolio has decreased approximately 9 percent in the first 11 months of the 2008-09 fiscal year.”

Parishes in the diocese are seeing a similar trend. Investment income, if there is any, is down, as are weekly collections. Increases in the cost of health insurance are staggering. The diocesan rate increase, effective Sept. 1, is 28 percent. While the diocesan Finance Council has presented Bishop Edward U. Kmiec with a balanced budget for the new fiscal year that began at the start of this month, there is plenty of belt-tightening underway.

Wages for CAO employees have been frozen at current levels; non-essential spending is being limited; a hiring freeze is in place for new positions while replacement positions will be filled on a case-by-case basis, and department managers were asked to maintain budgets at last year’s levels.

The core ministries of the diocese are supported by assessments on parish income and the Bishop’s Fund for the Faith portion of the Catholic Charities Appeal. “As our parishes and the appeal experience the effects of a downturn in the economy and reduced giving from parishioners,” Msgr. Slubecky said, “these trends negatively impact our operating budget.”

This is a time of change for the Church in the eight counties of Western New York. Our parishes continue to evolve following the consolidations that resulted from the Journey in Faith and Grace. Msgr. Slubecky said there needs to be an increase in our commitment to the Church’s many ministries and how to best meet that commitment.

In response to the fluctuating economic situation, a strategic planning committee representing a cross section of ministries including members of the Diocesan Finance Council, Catholic Charities, Christ the King Seminary and Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Trustees and Catholic Education has begun discussing the
best ways to optimize sources of revenue and allocate resources to support critical ministries.

A strategic plan is being developed, with the outcome based on a number of factors, including review of 10-year ministry, demographic and financial trends as well as recognition of the challenges to Church ministry: a diminishing and aging population in the diocese, the escalation of health care costs and investment and net asset losses.

This could result in ministry reductions or an increased offertory campaign. The Diocese of Buffalo is a massive organization, with more than 170 parishes, more than 50 Catholic elementary schools and a social services network that reaches into every corner of the region. It is in a position that many other organizations in the region, large and small, are in: how to continue to fulfill its mission during these difficult, uncertain times

“We must all work together and make the necessary sacrifices to ensure diocesan ministries continue to serve the Catholic Church in Western New York,” Msgr. Slubecky said.

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