Catholic diocese addresses fiscal woes
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The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is preparing for layoffs and other cuts in central administration programs to avoid a deficit of $2 million for 2012-13.
More than $1 million of the cuts has already been made. They came in part from the retirement, resignation and reassignment of 15 employees, according to an Aug. 14 letter to the staff from the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the vicar general. There are 180 employees, both clergy and laity.
"Unfortunately a significant deficit remains," he wrote. No annual bonus will be given, and "we also still face the necessity of additional staff reductions."
Decisions about staff cuts will be made in late August, he wrote.
He declined to elaborate on the letter. But the situation echoes that of other church bodies in southwestern Pennsylvania, and is less dire than some of them.
The 2011-12 the diocesan budget was $23.2 million, but officials knew last year that income for 2012-13 would be just $21 million. They began making cuts early this year, but the new round can't be finalized until the Diocesan Finance Council reviews them Sept. 6. Until then, Father Lengwin won't speculate about how many jobs may be lost.
The diocese hasn't had a deficit since 1989, when it ended a two-decade run of red ink. "We don't expect to have a deficit," he said. "We tell the parishes that they need to live within their means, and we need to do the same."
Father Lengwin attributed the budget shortfall to attrition -- more Catholics are dying than are being born in the region -- and to the recession.
"Income from the Parish Share, which supports diocesan programs through the Pastoral Center, has remained flat, and the cost of everything is rising," he said. "Look at the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Port Authority. It's the world that we live in, and the church is a part of that."
The cuts directly affect central offices such as the canon law department and upper echelon administration of Catholic schools. The budget doesn't include social service agencies or parishes. Parishioners sometimes fear that cash-strapped bishops will close churches to get money, but it doesn't work that way, Father Lengwin said. The assets of a closed parish go to the parish to which its parishioners are assigned, he said.
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is by far the largest religious body in the region, with 635,000 parishioners in six counties, down from 815,000 in 1993, for a loss of 22 percent. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had 97,000 members in nine counties in 1993 and has 78,000 today, for a loss of 20 percent. Pittsburgh Presbytery, which covers Allegheny County for the Presbyterian Church (USA), had 59,000 members in 1994 and has 35,000 now, a loss of 41 percent.
All were affected by the steel mill closings in the 1980s, when many young families left the region. All have suffered attrition as small congregations dwindled, merged or closed. But the Lutherans and Presbyterians have also had large, thriving congregations leave because of theological issues.
The presbytery has run six-figure deficits for years, drawing on an endowment that is nearly gone, said the Rev. Sheldon Sorge, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery. "For 2013 we are budgeting for a balanced budget for the first time in a very long time," he said.
That means cutting the presbytery staff by one-third, from 16 to 11. The presbytery had a budget of $2.8 million in 2009 and has cut at least $300,000 each year since. The 2013 budget is still being formulated, but Rev. Sorge anticipates similar cuts. If that holds, the presbytery will have cut $1 million, more than a third of it budget, since 2009.
The presbytery lost three congregations, among them one of its largest, to schism in 2007. Currently four more churches, including two large ones, have asked to explore the possibility of leaving with their property.
"Many presbyteries are going through this, and many are taking a larger hit than we are," Rev. Sorge said, citing some where the departure of a single, huge congregation decimated the presbytery budget. Some of those presbyteries no longer have full-time staff, he said.
"We are somewhat protected in that we don't have any single church that carries such a large share of our funding that losing them would cause us to dissolve," he said.
The Lutheran synod has had similar problems with attrition and schism, losing 18 of an original 201 congregations since 2008. The synod received $2.4 million from its congregations in 2008 but just $1.6 million in 2011. The Rev. Blair Morgan, synod director for evangelical mission, said that forced the synod to make hard choices.
It has reduced administrative staff and slashed support for church-related charities such as Lutheran Senior Life and Glade Run Services.
"We are looking for other ways we can support them, such as ways to make them more visible to our congregations, so they can get more involved," he said.
Historically, he said, the synod set a budget based on what it wanted to do, then revised it to fit fiscal reality.
"That has changed," he said. "It needs to be much more exactly based on what we expect to take in."
First Published August 21, 2012 12:00 am