Archdiocese announces financial plan responding to COVID-19 crisis

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Archdiocesan leaders announced a three-pronged plan on April 2 to help carry the Archdiocese of Chicago and its schools through the COVID-19 crisis.

The plan includes reducing some costs, working to stabilize offertory income and taking on some risk to savings and assets, said Betsy Bohlen, the archdiocese’s chief operating officer.

“We decided not to proceed with drastic spending cuts now,” Bohlen said. “Instead, we have a balanced plan focused on mitigating harm to the mission of the church and on protecting our employees.”

With no public Masses from March 14 until the crisis resolves, parishes are seeing decreased offertory income. The loss is estimated at up to $45 million over eight weeks, Bohlen said.

The first part of the plan is to stabilize offertory income by encouraging pastors to reach out to parishioners online or in other ways and by promoting online giving.

“The parishes that were doing the best with online giving going into this are doing better,” Bohlen said. “Other parishes that were more dependent on cash (donations) are having a harder time.”

To help, the archdiocese created a web page that allows people to donate money on a one-time or recurring basis and direct that donation to any archdiocesan parish.

The crisis, she said, could help parishes move to more online giving in the future.

No one expects that parishes will receive as much money in offertory giving as they would in normal circumstances, Bohlen said, but any increase helps.

The second part of the plan includes cutting costs, whether that means not making unnecessary purchases or turning off the lights and turning down the heat in buildings that are now vacant.

The archdiocese also will suspend contributions to employee 403(b) retirement accounts and reduce or eliminate employee raises this year.

Parishes are being offered help to apply for forgivable loans to small businesses, which were expanded to cover non-profits, as part of the federal stimulus program.

Parishes that have money saved likely will have to dip into those accounts. That money could be recouped with a capital campaign later.

Parishes that don’t have funds they can tap into could get interim bridge loans from the archdiocese, according to the April 2 memo that went out to archdiocesan clergy and staff.

While the COVID-19 crisis has suspended public Masses, it has not suspended ministry, Bohlen said.

For example, while some parts of the Renew My Church initiative that rely on face-to-face meetings have paused, parishes in the “building the new reality” phase are busy figuring out what radical hospitality looks like in an online environment.

Parishes are hosting online Alpha groups, book clubs and trivia nights, Bohlen said, and some of those efforts could continue once the crisis passes.

“In a crisis like this, more and more people are having fundamental questions about faith,” Bohlen said. “An online format makes it easier for them to begin. Some people who have questions about faith or are skeptical aren’t very likely to show up at a church, but they might do something that they can do online from their home.”


  • coronavirus

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