Tough economy forces Madison Diocese to freeze salaries, cut jobs

MADISON, Wis. – The Diocese of Madison announced May 28 that because of a downturn in its investment income in the past fiscal year, it is freezing all salaries and cutting several positions across the 11-county diocese.

“I cannot do or say anything which makes this decision any easier, and you know that layoffs were the very last option I would have chosen,” Bishop Robert C. Morlino said a letter announcing the changes.

“Let us keep one another in our prayers and be a support to one another as we work through this,” he said. “Let us especially pray for those whose positions we will need to cut. Let us pray for the families of all of our co-workers and for all those who suffer in these times.”

All diocesan employees agreed to the total salary freeze and about 20 positions were eliminated. In addition, employees will now have to pay more for the benefits they currently receive, and some staff members may be asked to take pay reductions.

The south-central Wisconsin diocese also announced it would have to close the Catholic Multicultural Center, through which the diocese has provided meals, religious services, adult education, and employment assistance for those in need since December 2002.

But with the bishop’s announcement, Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish has offered to take primary responsibility for the center. The offer was made by the pastor, Monsignor Kenneth Fiedler, with the support of neighboring pastors and parishes.

Bishop Morlino, in accepting the offer, said he and the diocese will continue to offer prayers and whatever help it can to those working with the center.

Every department in the diocese has been affected by the cuts, said William Yallaly, associate director of communications for the diocese. He did not expect the changes to greatly affect most Catholics around the diocese.

“Thankfully, we have so many great parish staffs at the parishes,” Yallaly said. “For the most part, the work they do will make sure the people ‘in the pews’ don’t notice a difference. It’s the parish staff members who will see a difference in the support” from the diocesan offices.

Beginning this year, the diocese is conducting an annual Catholic appeal, which mirrors the fundraising approach of the majority of Catholic dioceses around the country. And while the diocese said many Catholics have been generous in their support, the current economic crisis was still expected to have an effect on the appeal’s final outcome.

Whether a positive outcome in the appeal will lead to the reopening of the Catholic Multicultural Center or the resuming of its services is unknown, however.

“We’re going to do everything we can in the future to evaluate, once we can regain our footing financially,” Yallaly said.

In addition to the parish that will now oversee the multicultural center, other outreach to people in need was expected to be met by the new Center for Vincentian Charity opened in February by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The new center, located near the multicultural center, was officially dedicated the same day Bishop Morlino announced the diocesan cuts.

A special feature of the center, housed in a 24,000-square-foot building, is a wide-aisled customer-choice food pantry, which serves an average of 90 area families daily, five days a week.

There is also a comfortable waiting room and a more privacy-oriented area where staff can interact with clients, which is an effort to treat all who come in need with a dignity consistent with the Catholic values the society espouses.

The center also has generous warehouse and dock space to maintain stores of food to meet any increased demand; office space for the local administrative personnel and the society’s other service programs; and room to grow.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.