Diocese reduces staffing, but not essential services, in response to the pandemic

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PROVIDENCE — In response to the economic fallout wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diocese of Providence has made the difficult decision to permanently eliminate 10 positions in its Central Administration and has reduced the hours of other staff in the face of the decline in both weekly parish donations and contributions to the annual Catholic Charity Appeal.
The combined personnel cuts are expected to save the diocese approximately $1.6 million annually, with about $700,000 in savings to the Diocesan General Fund operational budget and about $900,000 in savings to the administration of the Diocesan Catholic Charity Fund.
“This was a deeply challenging process, but necessary in light of our shared responsibility to maintain fiscal sustainability for our local Church,” said Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, who noted that thousands of businesses across the nation have had to make similar difficult decisions in order to maintain their operations.
“As painful as this process was — and will continue to be for many in our community — we are confident these decisions will help alleviate the economic difficulties that have surfaced over the past few months.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic during the winter and spring coincided with the diocese’s annual Catholic Charity Fund Appeal, which supports the operations of about three dozen ministries.
The goal of this year’s Appeal was to raise $7.2 million by mid-summer, but the health crisis has greatly impacted donations. To date, the Appeal has raised about $4.2 million of that goal, although an in-pew donation campaign is planned during the weekend of Sept. 12-13.
“We are very encouraged to have reached $4.2 million in donations as the pandemic hit just prior to our in-pew stage of the campaign in the spring,” which precluded many parishioners from donating to the Appeal by placing their campaign envelopes in their parish collection basket, said Michael F. Sabatino, Chief Financial Officer for the Diocese of Providence.
When the decision was made to close the chancery on March 18, a reduced footprint of staff representing the most essential offices and ministries continued to direct their operations remotely.
Some of these departments were able to continue providing services by securing loans through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“For the rest of March, April and May we worked to interpret new regulations, understand the government assistance programs and communicate these things out to the parishes, schools and other agencies,” said John Bittner, Director of Human Resources. “We met twice a week via Zoom, something we all had to get used to in a hurry.”
During this time a formal survey was done of approximately 30 parishes, evenly split among those along the spectrum of their relative financial strength.
“On average it showed that revenues were down approximately 20-25 percent,” Sabatino said.
The survey indicated that the pandemic would have a lasting effect on the ability of parishes to raise crucial revenue needed as annual festivals, carnivals and even regular weekly in-pew donations could no longer be relied upon to sustain normal operations.
A follow-up survey conducted last month has shown that the current limits set to the church capacity for Mass attendance will have an impact on future giving.
Although several departments have been impacted by the staff reductions, including Information Technology, the offices of Family Life, Youth Ministry, Faith Formation, two Catholic Charities satellite offices, the Office of Communications and Rhode Island Catholic newspaper, diocesan officials say the reductions have in no way interrupted the important services these departments deliver to the faith community, especially during the recent shutdown due to the pandemic.
“With these cuts we have positively reorganized our efforts in order to continue to provide services for our ongoing Social Ministries,” said Msgr. Raymond B. Bastia, Vicar for the Office of Planning and Finance.
“We have realigned the responsibilities of several employees to be able to meet the responsibilities of essential services at our Chancery office building,” he said.
Msgr. Bastia noted as an example how the realignment has provided the diocese with more efficient ways to serve the human resources needs of employees of its largest public ministries, and has allowed for the closer supervision and direction of its Management Information Systems Department.
The diocese has also reorganized the responsibilities for its youth initiatives to help improve programming.
On the Central Administration side, the diocese has continued to provide for its ongoing public presence through its Office of Communications and the regular publication of Rhode Island Catholic, in print and online.
As the pandemic began to spike in the spring, Human Resources Manager Kate Hancock was permanently reassigned in the newly created position of Human Resources Director for the St. Clare-Newport and Saint Antoine diocesan nursing and assisted living facilities.
Several other diocesan employees have decided to retire, including John Barry, Secretary for Catholic Charities and Social Ministry. Barry, who retired on June 30, will continue to serve as a consultant to the Secretariat through the end of the calendar year.
“We thank all of our employees for their dedication and professionalism over many years of shared service in the Diocese of Providence,” said Msgr. Kenney, who paid tribute to Barry’s longtime service to the diocese.
“John has served the Diocese of Providence faithfully over a 48-year career,” he said. “He has been a faithful witness to evangelical charity.”