NEW YORK – Days after the U.S. bishops announced layoffs and a reorganization to their Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, setting off a firestorm in both the media and in Catholic circles, the conference has written a memo to bishops to explain its decision and to announce staff reductions to other departments.

The June 28 memo to American bishops, obtained by Crux, states that four of 17 staff within JPHD were let go, in addition to three of the six staff members within the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The memo states that the changes were due to several factors, “mostly related to funding.”

The memo, signed by USCCB General Secretary Father Michael Fuller, states the conference is committed to the work of the CCHD and it will continue, and that the conference’s “commitment to working and advocating for the poor shall endure.” It also states that JPHD will now become the “Secretariat of Justice and Peace” to better align it with other conference departments.

“As you can see, the work of advocating for sound policies based on the social teachings of the Church will remain strong, if not stronger,” the memo states. “It is very sad that some in the media and among former employees of the conference have spun this as an attack on the social mission of the Church and the pastoral commitment of the bishops.”

“It is not. It is realigning the work so that it is both sustainable and effective,” the memo concludes.

The news of the changes to JPHD caused quite the stir this week. One reason is because some observers, laity and bishops alike, viewed it as a retreat from the Church’s social commitment. Another reason was questions about why the decision was made, and who made it.

There was broad support for the CCHD among the American bishops at their recent plenary assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, and no votes were taken on its future. Many bishops were surprised to find out about the changes, especially as news came through the media and not from the conference itself.

Several bishops told Crux this week that they had insufficient information to comment on the changes. One said he communicated concerns directly to conference leadership and sought answers as to why the information wasn’t shared directly with the bishops, including why they were left to learn about the changes through the media like everybody else.

Another bishop told Crux that he was surprised by the cutbacks, and “both taken aback and disappointed by the lack of process and meaningful discussion” that led up to the decision. The bishop added that the timing of the decision is also problematic with challenges the nation faces.

The June 28 memo clarifies the why, and who.

As mentioned, the memo states that the changes were due to several factors, “mostly related to funding” (the CCHD operated at a $5.7 million deficit in 2022, according to public records).

As for why the information wasn’t shared with the bishops ahead of time, Fuller states that “because of the nature of the changes, and the fact that they deal with personnel issues, I was unable to share more specifics during the assembly.”

And as for who had a hand in the decision, the memo states that the changes were made after consultations with the CCHD subcommittee, other committee chairs, the Budget and Finance Committee, and the Executive Committee, which oversees personnel matters.

After learning the news, some bishops have further questioned the conference’s finances. The memo states that the “finances of the conference are solid,” and that the audit for the 2023 financials “is nearing completion and those statements will be forthcoming.”

The other staff reductions announced in the memo are to the conference’s General Secretariat, Finance and Accounting, General Counsel, General Services, Human Resources, and Information Technology departments. The stated reason for the reductions in the memo is because “changes in the program offices impact the supporting offices of the Conference.”

Specifically on the CCHD, Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland told Crux that it might just be time for change.

Barber said the CCHD might just have to narrow its focus, highlighting that he has advocated in the past for the funds to be available for education but to no avail. He also highlighted multiple diocesan initiatives – a free medical clinic and legal clinic for the poor – that he thinks the funds should be available for, as well.

“I’m not against helping the poor. My gosh, that’s a central part of our faith. I’m looking to help the poor more, and CCHD, maybe it’s time has just passed, or maybe it’s just too restrictive,” Barber said. “It’s that I want to help the poor more and have a more expanded vision.”

Barber added that he has a hard time promoting the CCHD because he “can’t show real results for the amount of money that has been spent over the years.” He said other bishops are weighing the same thing.

“I think some of the bishops are hesitant about continuing to participate in CCHD,” Barber said.

“It’s not because it’s anti-Catholic, but because they don’t see the results after all these years, and I would say I have that question, too, and therefore I’m going to bring it up with my presbyterate council – should we continue to take up the CCHD collection, or should we expand it? Still take up the collection but expand where that money should go,” he continued.

Barber said he found out about the changes to JPHD in the news like everybody else. However, he said he isn’t concerned about the process that went into it. He said on a national level he thinks the bishops can wait until their November meeting to continue a discussion on the future shape of the CCHD.

“I think on a national level we can wait until November, but I think every diocese and every bishop right now is considering what level of participation we want to have in CCHD based on what results we have experienced in our particular areas with funds from that collection,” Barber said.

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