Facing the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic downturn that has impacted families, households, businesses and Church institutions across the United States and Catholic parishes and schools locally, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center announced a restructuring on Aug. 21 due to reduced financial support. 

The archdiocese’s restructuring included 17 current employees’ positions being terminated, 17 having hours reduced and 14 currently vacant positions being eliminated. The Pastoral Center had 210 full-time equivalents before the restructure and 180 full-time equivalents after the reductions. 

The restructuring also involved reductions to operational budgets, elimination of some planned major in-person upcoming events, and a reduction in the number of print editions and the publication frequency of the Catholic Standard and El Pregonero newspapers, which are both shifting from biweekly to monthly print schedules, while continuing to post new content throughout the week on their websites.

According to the archdiocese, implementing those structural changes will cut costs by 10 percent – approximately $4 million in operating funds – during this fiscal year, which began July 1, 2020.

“No one could have envisioned the impact of the virus,” said Father Daniel Carson, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, who joined Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory in speaking to Pastoral Center employees on an Aug. 21 conference call when the scope of the cuts were announced. The individual employees impacted by the restructuring were notified after the conference call.

Archbishop Gregory noted that “right now we are in an awful moment, because resources we planned on having and resources we depend on” had fallen sharply during the pandemic.

“With these challenges and uncertainties, we have to look at what the future will be for us,” the archbishop said, adding that after planning and prayer, serious decisions had to be made about changing the Pastoral Center’s operations.

Father Carson noted that, prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the average weekly offertory donations at parishes in the archdiocese was about $1.5 million, but then it dropped to just over $1 million in the March to May time frame. He said that 30 percent reduction significantly reduced assessments to the Pastoral Center, which are the second largest source of revenue to fund its operations and ministries, with the archdiocese’s Annual Appeal providing the largest source of funding.

The Pastoral Center supports and oversees 139 parishes and nine missions, 91 Catholic schools and affiliated agencies of the archdiocese. Pastoral Center operations include the Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, the Department of Special Needs Ministries, college campus ministries, and all the administrative functions of the archdiocese’s secretariats.

When public Masses were suspended and Catholic school campuses were closed on March 13, the Pastoral Center closed, and as parish Masses were live streamed and Catholic schools adopted virtual learning, the archdiocesan employees worked remotely.

In the early months of the shutdown, parishes in the archdiocese and the Pastoral Center were able to continue their operations with the help of funding from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program, but those funds ran out in mid-July and have not been renewed by Congress.

Father Carson said the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has caused parishes and schools to struggle financially, and currently 44 parishes and schools have begun or are in the process of restructuring, and more parishes are making requests for financial assistance from the archdiocese.

In a letter sent to priests of the archdiocese that day, Archbishop Gregory said, “I have been a priest for almost 50 years, and I have never seen anything like what we are witnessing with this pandemic. It has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, changing how even the simplest routines must now be performed.”

Archbishop Gregory noted that pastors “have shared with me the financial hardship you are currently experiencing with reduced offertory. Understandably, our parishioners have their minds on their homes, family members and health.”

In the letter, the archbishop also said that as Payroll Protection Funds have been spent, many parishes and schools are having to restructure their operations in an effort to limit their deficits. Currently 85 percent of parishes in the archdiocese are receiving donations online, and parishes have been responding to increased requests for assistance for food and for people facing financial hardships and elder care and family counseling and support.

Archbishop Gregory praised the parish priests for their efforts to maintain offertory donations in this challenging time, but he added, “While we have had some success, the significant gap between revenue and expenses continues.”

Announcing the Pastoral Center restructuring, the archbishop wrote, “The time has also come now for us at the archdiocesan Pastoral Center to similarly make the unfortunate and sorrowful determination to make adjustments to our operations.”

After detailing the changes and savings in expenses, Archbishop Gregory emphasized the archdiocese must move forward in faith, trusting in God and in each other, and like the apostles on the stormy sea, knowing that Christ is always there. “This is what we must do at this critical time. We will weather this storm,” the archbishop said.

In an Aug. 24 interview, Father Carson noted that before entering the seminary, he had worked at the White House and Wall Street and had witnessed how restructurings impacted people.

“On Wall Street when financial downturns happen, it (restructuring) is expected. For the Church, it’s not a normal expectation,” he said. 

Father Carson noted that while decisions were made about how to continue the Church’s mission, the people let go were part of that mission.

“It impacts us like a family,” he said, noting the community of workers at the Pastoral Center. 

Father Carson added, “There’s also a reality of where we are, knowing there’s a long-term impact of the virus. With our parishes and schools undergoing restructuring, we needed to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to our care. Our goal was to make sure whatever restructuring entails, that we would be able to still care for the parishes, schools, priests and people of the Church and its ministries.”

The archdiocesan administrator noted that the cuts in expenses and the reductions in staffing or work hours impacted all the Pastoral Center’s departments, and employees who lost their jobs will receive severance pay and medical benefits for a period of time, and will be offered outplacement services to help them find employment.

“We value every employee, and for those that were let go, we wanted to take care of them the best we could,” the priest said, adding that the archdiocese valued their service, and they and their families will be prayed for as they make this transition.

Father Carson noted that dioceses across the country have already restructured or are in the process of restructuring. “We’ve looked at other dioceses, and how they strived to restructure in the most pastoral way they could,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Washington had begun planning potential restructuring after the coronavirus shutdown began, before the Payroll Protection Program funds were announced.

“We were able to maintain our level of resources and services up until now,” Father Carson said. “More recently, we’ve come to understand there will be a long-term impact financially well into the future.”

Noting the planning that preceded the Pastoral Center restructuring, Father Carson said, “Besides looking at the bottom line, we looked at what is our short-term and long-term mission in the archdiocese, and how we can best fulfill the mission… This situation has given us an opportunity to reflect on what our core mission as Church is, and how, together, we can best accommodate it given the uncertainty in which we’re living.”