Chicago archdiocese to close or consolidate five schools

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is laying off about 10 percent of its work force and is planning to close five schools to reverse "unsustainable" deficits.

The downsizing, which apparently has been in the works for months, coincides with the arrival of Cardinal Francis George in Rome this week to participate in the conclave to choose a new pope.

In a lengthy letter to parishioners posted on the archdiocese website, George outlines cost-cutting measures for the archdiocese, which has been running operating deficits of more than $30 million every year for the past four years.

"Since this trend is unsustainable, I want to set out the measures we are taking to ensure prudent stewardship of our resources for years to come," George says in the letter.

At the Pastoral Center, 75 positions have been cut, including 55 full-time roles. That reduction is estimated to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal year 2015, according to George.

“Our employees are faith-filled men and women who have worked tirelessly for the good of the Church.  Please keep them in your prayers,” he wrote.

George wrote in his Cardinal’s Column that other cost-cutting measures would also include closing or consolidating “a few schools that are no longer sustainable.”

Five schools will be closed, some of which have seen demographic changes or other challenges, according to the letter. The archdiocese plans to give out scholarships to children affected by the change so they can attend nearby Catholic schools.

The archdiocese will also reduce its annual aid to schools by $10 million next year. “We hope to return to a sustainable level of aid for those schools that will always be facing financial difficulties,” George wrote.

The archdiocese will also scale back on handing out capital loans and grants to parishes, while also creating  “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance. The Pastoral Center will work with those church communities to help them handle financial needs in the future, according to the letter.

“Going forward, we will need to approach this source of aid differently, to be sure it is always available when necessary,” the cardinal wrote in the letter. “We need to be more careful about the types of projects we can fund; we need to rely on parishes to pursue their own funding when possible; we need to adhere to stricter underwriting guidelines and to adhere more closely to budget.

“There will likely be needs that are simply not fundable, and we will have to work with those parishes on alternative plans,” he wrote.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also save funds by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

All together, those reductions are expected to save $13 million to $15 million annual by fiscal year 2015, the letter states.

The cardinal said the deficits incurred over the years are not related to misconduct payments. The archdiocese uses the proceeds from “sales of undeveloped property to pay misconduct expenses,” he wrote.

Saying the cuts are “necessary but difficult,” George goes on to thank Chicago Catholics for their generosity. He also acknowledges that the reduction in services and funding will be hard for the parishes and people directly affected.

“These actions are being taken now because the financial situation imposes them,” George wrote. “We are also taking them, however, so that the archdiocese will have the resources she needs for her mission, picking up the challenge of the New Evangelization and re-proposing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to future generations.”

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