Thursday, July 04, 2024

US bishops shocked by cuts to justice and peace office

The US bishops’ conference made up to half of the staff in its Justice, Peace and Human Development (JPHD) office redundant.

According to Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the staff cuts “will allow the conference to align resources more closely with recent funding trends”.

The JPHD office includes two full committees, one dealing with issues of domestic justice and the other with international justice and peace issues, and a permanent subcommittee which oversees the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the bishops’ principal anti-poverty programme.

CCHD has been targeted by some conservative groups that object to its community organising model, which entails collaborating with non-Catholic organisations that do not share the Church’s teachings.

The cuts shocked many bishops. At the spring meeting of the USCCB in Louisville two weeks earlier, the bishops discussed the future of the CCHD programme at length in response to questions raised about its finances, which like many programmes reliant on parish collections had not fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Most bishops emerged from the discussion believing the staff at the conference understood that the bishops wanted to maintain the programme.

The cuts announced last week, which amount to a restructuring of the conference and its priorities, were not mentioned at the Louisville meeting, raising concerns about the lack of consultation with the full body of bishops, or even with the conference’s administrative committee, which consists of committee chairs and 15 regional representatives.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, who sits on the CCHD sub-committee, said he was “sure the approval [regarding the redundancies] was not given at a broader level than the general secretariat and the executive committee”. The latter consists of the four bishops who serve as principal officers of the conference.

The USCCB wrote to all bishops on 28 June with details, but only after many had learnt of the cuts from reports. The conference’s message said its “commitment to working and advocating for the poor shall endure”.

Large changes in priorities and organisation would be expected to go through extensive consultation with relevant committees, the administrative committee, and the full body of bishops.

Other critics asked why financial problems were not addressed with staffing cuts to all committees, and what effect this would have on the conference’s mission.

“Why in a world at war, a nation with pervasive poverty, are the leaders of the conference minimising the conference’s commitments to overcome poverty, work for justice and pursue peace?” asked John Carr, who directed the JPHD office for more than 20 years.