Staff told about financial realities

Saturday, July 27, 2019 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Ann Rodgers General Manager

On July 15 and 16, Bishop David Zubik and senior diocesan staff members held meetings for all clergy and diocesan employees about financial challenges facing the diocese and its 170 parishes.

As he shared the information with the clergy and staff, Bishop Zubik urged them “to not become discouraged.”

“Discouragement,” he said, “is the most powerful tool of the devil. Once the devil gets us discouraged, he can get us to do anything he wants us to do.”

He asked them to see this time as a new Pentecost.

“When we look to the future, we need to think about the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, when the first apostles faced innumerable challenges as they began to spread the Gospel,” Bishop Zubik said. “Their mission appeared impossible. But God made all things possible then, and he continues to do so today.”

Prior to 2018, for several decades average Mass attendance in the diocese has fallen 4 percent annually, while for several years offertory giving has fallen 1 percent annually. This parallels trends across many denominations due to increasing secularization in society and, in Pittsburgh’s case, one of the oldest populations in the country. Over the past 12 months, however, Mass attendance fell 9 percent and offertory fell 11 percent.

“There are many reasons for this larger offertory decline in the past fiscal year,” said Bruno Bonacchi, chief financial officer of the diocese.

In addition to societal trends mentioned above, over the past year the diocese had experienced reaction to the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sexual abuse. A few months afterward, parishioners also reacted to the October 2018 implementation of On Mission for The Church Alive!, which led to the transfer of many popular priests and changes in accustomed Mass times.

“Decreased offertory income will impact both parishes and diocesan operations, and both will have to reduce their expenses as a result. This will impact the abilities of both parishes and the diocese to provide ministry,” Bonacchi said.

Recently, the diocese had to reduce its costs by $2.8 million, primarily by eliminating 32 jobs, which was a 20 percent cut in diocesan staff.

Parishes that sponsor schools are under additional financial pressure from declining enrollment, a situation that also affects many public schools due to the aging demographics of southwestern Pennsylvania. Over the last decade, Catholic elementary schools in the diocese have lost 40 percent of their enrollment. Parishes have to make up the difference when tuition income falls, so that teachers can receive salary and benefits.

One result was that some parishes had been borrowing from the diocese to pay health insurance premiums for faculty and employees. This created instability in diocesan finances. Schools will now have to operate on a balanced budget or face closure.

Also, when the diocese established the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program in January 2019 to assist victims of childhood sexual abuse by diocesan clergy, its independent administrators expected about 200-250 claims. At that time, the diocese identified funds from the past sale of assets and other unrestricted sources that could be set aside to compensate victims/survivors.

However, it now appears that there could be many more individuals who file claims, so the diocese is identifying additional assets, primarily office properties belonging to the diocesan central administration, that could be sold to compensate victims/survivors, Bonacchi said.

The diocese has consistently said that no funds for the IRCP will come from Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, Catholic Charities, sale of parish property or any other funds designated for a specific use by the donor. Nor have such funds been used in the past to compensate victims.

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