By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) will outsource its in-house publishing division and cut the position of secretary to the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace.
“No area of the conference is not affected by the effort to cut down expenses and maximize productivity,” said CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Patrick Powers, P.H., in an interview. “We have had to rethink the way we do things, to do more and to cost less.”
“For many years the bishops have been grappling with finances,” he said. “The dioceses cannot afford to pay the amount of money required to keep the conference running.”
The per capita rate charged each diocese based on Census data of baptized Catholics has remained unchanged this year, but some poorer diocese are having trouble meeting their assessment, he said.
Msgr. Powers said he has met with CCCB employees to explain the fact the conference does not have unrestricted funds and must rein in spending “or the bank will close our doors.”
“It’s always so difficult to see people lose their jobs,” he said. “The bishops don’t take that lightly.”
But financial belt-tightening is also a reality, he said, noting “one can hardly pick up a newspaper” without seeing evidence other corporations and organizations are being forced to make similar hard choices.
“The bishops have voted to eliminate the publications service as we know it,” said Msgr. Powers. “We don’t have the funds to keep it technically up-to-date.”
Details of the outsourcing will be revealed later next month after the arrangements are finalized, he said, noting eight to ten jobs could be affected. The bishops took five years to make this decision and feel badly about those who will lose their jobs, Msgr. Powers said. “But the bishops had no choice.”
The bishops have been studying the issue of CCCB Publications for 15 years, Msgr. Powers said, noting they made the decision to outsource and he is following their instructions. The key, however, was finding a reputable North American company with a reputation for treating its employees well, he said. “It is a communications firm we have dealt with in the past,” he said.
The position occupied by Francois Poitras, who served under the title of secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission, has also been eliminated, said Powers.
“This is no reflection on his work as a theologian,” Powers said. “We’re grateful for the work he’s done.”
The role of secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission was never a fulltime responsibility, as Poitras and other advisors on the CCCB staff perform many other duties as well, Powers said.
There will be no difference in the service on the Justice and Peace file, he stressed, despite the position’s elimination. “It will just be done a different way.”
Some of the position’s duties had already been transferred to the Standing Committee for Development and Peace, he said. The role also involved coordinating work with the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) and KAIROS, but the CCCB executive have taken on those duties directly. Justice and Peace Commission chairman Saint-Hyacinthe Francois Bishop Francois Lapierre was also consulted, he said.
Executive director of Citizens for Public Justice Joe Gunn expressed disappointment with the decision to make Poitras’ position redundant. “I feel quite sorry for the four bishops on the Commission for Justice and Peace,” the former CCCB social affairs director said. “These are four good men trying to do a big job.”
“I hope the bishops get the help they need to fulfill their mandate,” he said.
Gunn, who worked for the CCCB from 1994 to 2005, said there were four people in his office when he started “and we were always busy.”
“There are a lot of social justice issues to attend to,” he said.
Gunn said back in 2005, the CCCB had developed a strategy to work ecumenically on social justice issues since all churches were alike in feeling a financial pinch. Gunn raised concerns about a continued CCCB presence on the CCC’s justice and peace committee and on the KAIROS board. “How are we going to maintain those ecumenical contacts and participations that allowed us to do social justice work together?” he asked. “If the bishops participate on these commissions, that’s terrific.”
“The work isn’t just sitting in front of a computer, it’s getting out into the community, it’s working side by side with people,” he said.
Msgr. Powers, who began his term as general secretary about two and a half years ago, said many aspects of the CCCB secretariat’s operation needed updating, especially its technological infrastructure. It cost about a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade the computer and communications systems, he said.
The new needs of the conference require people with increased technological abilities, he said. More technology may mean fewer bodies, but those remaining must have a higher level of expertise.
The conference is presently looking at someone who can manage the data base, he said. They also hope to have a “paperless” plenary next year and are making greater use of video conferencing technology to cut travel expenses for meetings.