CHICAGO--Budget cuts announced Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Chicago signal that the area's Roman Catholics are entering a period of austerity where there will be less money for their parishes and schools.
The cuts, which were officially announced as Cardinal Francis George and other leaders of the church gathered at the Vatican to select a new pope, range from closing five schools, eliminating 75 positions at the archdiocese's headquarters to placing a moratorium on loans to parishes from the archdiocese bank for three years. Other changes include creating stricter guidelines for local parishes applying for subsidies and reducing the number of the agencies in the archdiocese.
George, who spoke publicly about the cuts when asked by reporters in Rome, said they are needed to address the archdiocese's chronic financial problems. The archdiocese has run deficits of more than $30 million annually over the last four years, including being $40 million in the red for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.
All told, the measures will save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, officials said.
"The expenses have gone up, and the income is pretty well flat," George said, following a news conference in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's last audience Wednesday in St. Peter Square. "We tried to ride out the recession without making any changes--and we can't do that. We're giving more grants to parishes and schools that need more money. The budget is not balanced. Not just layoffs, but a lot of other things being done, other ways to use the resources we have more wisely."
The archdiocese sold $150 million in bonds in 2012 that helped it get through a cash-flow problem, but ultimately, that wasn't enough, George said. He hopes the cuts enable the archdiocese to balance its budget in two years.
Although the cardinal's announcement made headlines, the archdiocese's financial situation has been no secret to the archdiocese's priests. Several clergymen said they knew the archdiocese had planned to scale back loans to parishes.
"We have already made adjustments," said Rev. Dennis Ziomek, of St. Barbara Parish in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. "We have to be responsible stewards with the money."
In the letter, the cardinal thanked parishioners for their generosity and asked them to pray for the employees now out of a paycheck.
At the archdiocese's Pastoral Center headquarters on Wednesday, people funneled in and out of the building during their lunch breaks but declined comment on the layoffs. Before the announcement, staffers received memos asking them to report to their desks early Wednesday morning.