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Wilmington diocese to cut jobs, close paper to pay abuse costs

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Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., speaks during an Oct. 19, 2009, press conference about the Diocese of Wilmington filing for bankruptcy protection to enable it to settle abuse cases. (CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog)

WILMINGTON, Del. -- The Diocese of Wilmington will eliminate 19 full-time and three part-time positions as it cuts operating expenses and prepares to pay more than $77.4 million to survivors of sexual abuse by priests.

The diocese announced the cuts in a letter from Bishop W. Francis Malooly accompanied by a list of positions that will be eliminated. Among the services that will be discontinued because of the layoffs are two run by Catholic Charities -- parish social ministry and the adoption program. The diocese will also stop publishing its newspaper, The Dialog, after 46 years and will let go the paper's staff of seven full-time employees and one contract staff member.

Other staff reductions will come in the offices of the chancery, Hispanic ministry, human resources, religious education and marriage tribunal. A vacant position in Catholic youth ministry will not be filled.

Most of the layoffs will be effective July 1. The Dialog "will be phased out sometime this fall," the diocese said. "Alternative modes of communication between the diocese, parishes and the faithful are being studied."

In his letter to parishioners, Bishop Malooly expressed "my sincerest regret to those whose positions will be eliminated" and said he was "pained by the loss of jobs by our dedicated, hard-working members of the diocesan family. They and all of our employees have been and are faithful friends and partners in ministry who loyally serve the mission of the church."

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The bishop said the diocese is extending health insurance benefits "for an additional time period" for employees whose jobs have been cut. He did not specify how long. (Employees whose jobs are being cut are not eligible for unemployment benefits since the diocese has traditionally opted not to pay unemployment compensation taxes, as allowed by Delaware law for church organizations.)

One of those whose jobs will be cut is Sister Sally Russell, who for 10 years has been the assistant director of religious education.

"The sadness that I carry is beyond human words at this time," she told The Dialog. "There seems to be no limit to the painful reality of the abuse scandal. My deepest sorrow is for the mission of Jesus served by the ministry of catechesis."

Noting that the church is observing the penitential season of Lent, Russell said, "I am compelled to live more deeply rooted in the suffering Christ and in the power of the Spirit. I know, in time, gratitude for those whom I have met and all that I have experienced will replace the sadness of the present moment."

On Feb. 2 the diocese reached an agreement to pay survivors of sexual abuse by priests more than $77.4 million to settle nearly 150 claims of abuse. The agreement will end pending lawsuits against the diocese and several parishes and commits the diocese to give to survivors its files on sexual abusers.

The agreement, pending approval of all creditors and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, is expected to bring to an end sometime this summer the Chapter 11 process the diocese began in October 2009. The diocese declared bankruptcy to settle the cases filed by the survivors in a "fair and equitable way" while continuing the ministries of the church.

In his letter Malooly reiterated what he said in an April 4 memo to employees that announced the cuts to come. The diocese had two major goals in filing bankruptcy, he said, "to fairly compensate all survivors of clergy sexual abuse and honor our obligations to other creditors and pensioners, and to the best of our ability continue the charitable, educational, pastoral, and spiritual work" of the church.

In meeting the second obligation, he said, "we have, through the settlement, protected our parishes and now we are taking those necessary steps to continue the mission and ministries of diocesan services, albeit in reduced fashion."

The diocese plans to continue to publish The Dialog on its normal publication schedule -- weekly through May 26 then every other week in summer -- while it prepares its new communications approach.

The first issue of The Dialog was published Sept. 3, 1965, when it was called the Delmarva Dialog to reflect the geography of the diocese then. From the beginning, the paper has been sent to all registered households who request it; current circulation is about 55,000.

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