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Archdiocese in Boston Warns Of Layoffs, Health Benefit Cuts

By Fox Butterfield

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- BOSTON

Underscoring the financial difficulty facing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston as a result of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and a sagging economy, Bishop Richard G. Lennon warned his parish priests on Tuesday that because almost 100 churches are withholding money from the archdiocese, he will order them to start laying off employees or cut their health benefits.

Lennon, who took over as the interim administrator of the archdiocese after Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned in December, told the priests that, “This may well be painful for some,” but that the archdiocese had to bring its costs and resources into balance.

The shortfall averages about $15,000 a parish, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said. It now amounts to a $9.4 million budget gap.

The money is supposed to be paid by Boston’s 360 parishes into a central trust fund, then returned by the archdiocese to help individual churches pay for the pension benefits and health insurance of its lay employees and the insurance costs for its buildings, Coyne said.

“We just don’t have the available funds to make these payments,” he said.

If the 100 parishes do not start making payments by July 1, Coyne said, Lennon will send out a “letter of termination,” meaning the lay employees could lose their health insurance, their jobs, or both.

Coyne said the archdiocese had raised only $4.5 million of a projected $9 million annual giving campaign that is crucial to operating its schools and charities in Boston. Last year, before the scandal became public, the original goal for the annual campaign was $17.4 million.

Moreover, an ambitious capital campaign started by Law to raise $300 million is now likely to fall $100 million short, church officials here said. The archdiocese’s budget this year has been cut by 20 percent, following a 30 percent reduction last year.

In 2002 alone the number of active priests fell by 10 percent, caused mostly by the removal of those accused of sexually molesting minors. That leaves the Boston Archdiocese with 505 priests, according to the archdiocesan directory, down from 1,072 priests two decades ago.

Even these figures do not fully describe the troubles facing the Boston Archdiocese.

For example, each parish is also supposed to contribute 1 percent of its weekly offerings to the Boston headquarters, in what is known as the cathedraticum, an amount that can reach anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 a year.

But many priests say they have stopped sending their weekly offerings to protest how the church hierarchy handled the sexual abuse scandals and out of concern that the money will be used to pay legal settlements.