SPRINGFIELD -- The bishop of the Springfield Diocese has called for a steep 18 percent budget cut to combat flat income, rising costs, and three years of deficit spending.
In a meeting last week, Bishop Timothy McDonnell told diocesan cabinet secretaries and department heads that the across-the-board cut would be instituted for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, The Republican of Springfield reported.
Diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont said some programs could be eliminated, but he did not give specifics. He said that McDonnell hoped to minimize the effect on parishes, though Dupont added it is still too early to know precisely what the fallout will be.
Dupont said McDonnell also wants to avoid layoffs, even though personnel costs are a large portion of the overall budget.
''As people retire or leave, their positions will be evaluated to see if they will be filled," Dupont said.
The diocese has instituted a hiring freeze on positions related to its administrative office and placed a moratorium on travel expenses to conferences and meetings outside the diocese.
Last week, the diocese also announced it was closing St. Matthew's School in Springfield and Holy Family Parish, which serves Holyoke and West Springfield.
Details of the planned cuts were first published earlier this month in the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Observer.
The diocese has had deficits of $305,000, $1.3 million, and $664,437 in the last three fiscal years, respectively, with annual spending around $20 million. This past fiscal year, the diocese also absorbed the cost of a $7.7 million settlement with 46 victims of sexual abuse by clergy. The money was taken from diocesan savings. The diocese is hoping to recoup some of the settlement costs from its insurance carriers, but said it will be dealing from the loss of interest income for years. Roughly 30 claims of clergy abuse remain to be settled.
The diocese's income has stayed flat as the number of Catholics in the diocese has dropped 31 percent during the past 20 years, from 351,181 in 1984 to 240,730 in 2004, according to church statistics.
Dupont added that weak market returns on investments during the past several years have contributed to the diocese's financial woes. Income from parishes represents about 10 percent of the diocese's income.