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 CNS Story:

MAIDA-AUTOS Dec-17-2008 (810 words) With photos posted Dec. 5. xxxn

Detroit cardinal urges quick action on loans for auto industry

By Robert Delaney
Catholic News Service

DETROIT (CNS) -- Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit emphasized the need for urgent government action to allocate at least enough money to help Detroit's automakers stay afloat until a more comprehensive assistance package can be worked out in the new year.

"People in households throughout southeast Michigan and all across the country are counting on our lawmakers and leaders to help stabilize the domestic auto industry," the cardinal said Dec. 16.

There was widespread anticipation President George W. Bush would announce a financial assistance package along the lines of the $14 billion proposal that failed to win Senate approval Dec. 11. By midday Dec. 17 no announcement had been made by the White House.

Such a package was expected to reallocate funds previously approved by Congress as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, designed to bail out banking and financial firms, or previously authorized to assist the automakers' switch to more environmentally friendly products.

Conditions expected to be attached to the loans included mandatory restructuring and acceptance of a "car czar" to oversee fulfillment of the requirements.

Cardinal Maida acknowledged that changes lay ahead for the Big Three automakers, but urged they be decided through a collaborative process.

"Whatever restructuring is done within the auto companies, their suppliers and the ancillary businesses, it needs to involve all the stakeholders. The situation is urgent and the process needs to provide reasonable, negotiated timelines for all of the parties involved," he said.

The cardinal expressed confidence business and labor leaders in metro Detroit could be counted on "to uphold their part of the bargain and to do the right thing."

"All others involved in these complicated negotiations, especially those in Washington, should follow suit for the sake of our community, our country and beyond," he added.

Cardinal Maida had joined with other local religious leaders -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- Dec. 4 in urging the federal government to extend a financial aid package to the domestic automakers.

"This is a time to stand in solidarity with all who are suffering loss of jobs or homes, and all those who are anxious about what will happen in the future to the automobile industry in metro Detroit," he said at the time.

The square-mile General Motors Tech Center is within the boundaries of St. Sylvester Parish in suburban Warren, just north of Detroit, and parishioners include many current and former employees there and at other nearby plants and offices.

Its pastor, Father Gary Schulte, said "fear and confusion" were widespread among his parishioners.

"Many have lost their jobs, and those who are employed are fearful they may lose their jobs," he told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit's archdiocesan newspaper.

He noted that bankruptcy for the automakers had not been ruled out if the federal financial aid package somehow failed to come through. "But," he added, "even if the loans do go through, they wonder whether they will have a job, because it has been acknowledged that more plant closures will be needed."

Msgr. Anthony Tocco, pastor of St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in the upscale suburb of Bloomfield Hills, said prayers for the unemployed and underemployed had become a regular part of the prayer of the faithful at Mass in recent weeks.

Many high-level auto executives, including former Chrysler head Lee Iacocca and former General Motors chiefs Thomas A. Murphy and Richard Gerstenberg, have been members of St. Hugo during the 23 years he has been pastor. And although none of the current Big Three CEOs are members, many parishioners are -- or were -- employed by the automakers, their suppliers or dealers.

"We're praying a whole lot, and -- along with prayer -- we're adjusting our budget. Our collection is down substantially, and we're trying to cut (expenses) by 20 (percent) to 30 percent," he said.

Some parishioners have lost their jobs, and a number of families -- especially some of the younger ones who had children in the parish school -- have moved out of state to find work, Msgr. Tocco continued.

But other parishioners who own restaurants or other businesses are also experiencing the fallout from the auto industry's downtown, he added.

Richard Genthe, president of Dick Genthe Chevrolet in Southgate, a southern suburb, said the domestic auto industry already has been restructuring, and added that if automakers get a "bridge loan" they'll continue the progress made over the past three years and accelerate the pace of other planned changes.

Genthe, a member of St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor, said automakers and their dealers have been adjusting to consumer demand by changing the mix of cars and trucks available.

He also said financing for buyers has improved because a consortium of Midwestern credit unions has stepped in to fill the gap created when many banks restricted their lending.


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