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BISHOPS-RESTRUCTURING Nov-15-2006 (1,140 words) With photos posted Nov. 14 and 15. xxxn

Bishops downsize their national conference, reduce assessments

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a far-reaching move the U.S. bishops voted Nov. 14 to restructure their national operations significantly.

They sharply reduced the number of committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved a 16 percent cut in diocesan assessments for the conference in 2008 -- decisions that will result in downsizing their national staff by eliminating about 60 jobs.

Despite strenuous objections by some bishops over some of the planned staff cuts, the bishops adopted the comprehensive program of reorganization and strategic planning for 2008-2011 by a 213-19 vote.

Heads of dioceses then, in a 158-6 vote, adopted the proposal to reduce diocesan funding of the USCCB in 2008 by 16 percent. Diocesan assessments, which will cover almost $11.9 million of the USCCB's $139.5 million budget in 2007, will be reduced in 2008 to just under $10 million. Only bishops who head dioceses are allowed to vote on decisions directly affecting the finances of their dioceses.

After the bishops' vote on the reorganization was tallied, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., USCCB president, stressed the importance of the moment, the culmination of more than three years of study and planning. "It's been 34 years since we've had a major restructuring of the conference," he said.

After the vote the bishops gave a long standing ovation to Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., USCCB secretary, who oversaw the restructuring plan as chairman of the bishops' Committee on Priorities and Plans.

Archbishop Sheehan described the restructuring as a shift from a "modular" model in which each committee and its staff worked in their own specific area to an "organic" model in which there will be far more collaboration among committees and among staff in different departments.

Under the reorganization, the conference's 36 standing committees will be reduced to 16 and all ad hoc committees, currently numbering 16, will be eliminated. Some current standing or ad hoc committees will become subcommittees.

Another key to the reorganization has been to focus conference efforts more closely on a few top priorities established by the bishops.

The five priority goals the bishops adopted for the 2008-2011 planning cycle are:

-- Implementation of the pastoral initiative on marriage.

-- Faith formation focused on sacramental practice.

-- Priestly and religious vocations.

-- Life and dignity of the human person.

-- Recognition of cultural diversity, with special emphasis on Hispanic ministry, "in the spirit of Encuentro."

Hispanic ministry had emerged last June as a priority that the bishops wanted to add to the other four originally proposed by Archbishop Sheehan's committee. For the bishops' November general meeting the committee brought back that priority in the form of phrasing it as "cultural diversity in the spirit of Encuentro," a reference to Encuentro 2000 and other similar national meetings in recent years that focused on Hispanic ministry especially, but also on celebration of the church's cultural diversity in a broader sense.

Several bishops, led by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio, objected that "cultural diversity" alone did not capture the bishops' intense concern about building up the church's ministry to its largest and still rapidly growing minority, Hispanics. The bishops adopted his proposal to insert "with special emphasis on Hispanic ministry" into the language of the fifth priority goal.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, objected to the loss of two out of four associate directors in that committee's secretariat. He said that plan would return the secretariat "to the staffing level of 1971" when ecumenical and interreligious activities were far fewer and less complex.

He said the plan would force the secretariat to give up its specialist in Jewish, Orthodox or Muslim relations and noted that the U.S. dialogues in question are "terribly valuable" for the advance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue around the world, not just in the United States.

Several other bishops also spoke in favor of the motion to reinstate one associate director slot in that secretariat, but when it came to a vote the bishops rejected the motion.

Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Knoxville, Tenn., a member of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made a similar plea for a motion by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, the committee chairman, to reinstate an eliminated position in the pro-life secretariat. The motion was voted down. Bishop Kurtz spoke on Cardinal Keeler's behalf because the cardinal, who was recently in a car accident, had had to leave the meeting for a scheduled session of physical therapy.

Auxiliary Bishop John C. Dunne of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Science and Human Values, sought unsuccessfully to get that committee -- which was suppressed in the plan, with its responsibilities shifted to the Committee on Doctrine -- reinstated as a permanent subcommittee of the doctrine committee.

Several other proposed changes in the comprehensive plan were also voted down, but the bishops adopted a committee name change proposed by Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D. At his request the proposed Committee on Clergy and Consecrated Life was renamed Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, more accurately reflecting the range of its responsibilities.

Before addressing the changes involved in restructuring the conference at the start of 2008, by a vote of 228-1 the bishops approved a 2007 conference budget of $139.5 million, up $8.3 million from the 2006 budget. They also approved proposed priorities and plans for 2007.

Bishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Duluth, Minn., USCCB treasurer, told the bishops that on paper that budget would entail a deficit of $1.5 million that would have to be drawn from conference reserves. The actual deficit, however, "is likely to be less severe" because a number of staff positions still authorized in the 2007 budget are currently unfilled and will remain unfilled in anticipation of the 2008 staff cuts, he said.

More than half the jobs to be eliminated by 2008 have already been eliminated in practice by not hiring new people to replace departing staff members.

Following the restructuring votes Bishop Skylstad noted that the reorganization would require revisions in the USCCB bylaws and committee handbook.

With voice approval from the bishops he appointed a task force to work out those revisions. It is to be headed by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., elected earlier in the meeting to succeed Archbishop Sheehan as USCCB secretary and chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans.

Appointed to work with Bishop Kicanas were Bishop Schnurr; Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs; Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, a former conference president who played a major role in a revision of conference bylaws in the 1990s; and Msgr. David J. Malloy, USCCB general secretary.


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