ALLOUEZ — The Diocese of Green Bay has enacted a temporary adjustment of hours and wages for diocesan staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The adjustments will impact all employees of the diocesan Curia.
Letters sent to diocesan employees March 26 by Jennifer Buechel, director of Human Resources, addressed the temporary cutbacks, which begin Monday, April 6, and end Friday, May 1.
“For the month of April 2020, our Curia offices will be temporarily closed on Fridays and the Curia office hours will be reduced to eight hours per day, Monday through Thursday,” said Buechel. Weekly employment will be cut 5.5 hours, from 37.5 hours to 32 hours.
In a telephone interview with The Compass March 30, Buechel and Fr. Dan Felton, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, said the reduction of hours was part of a broader strategy addressing challenges presented by the COVID-19 health emergency.
An ad hoc committee was created by the diocese to address state and federal mandates issued several times in March regarding safety guidelines for schools and parishes due to the coronavirus.
Out of these meetings, issues addressed included “the safety of our people, first and foremost; our need to serve the greater good; our ability to pay; and the opportunity for remote and nontraditional work options,” said Buechel. “When you put that all together, we believed and found that an adjustment (of office hours) was necessary.”
“The core to that adjustment wasn’t just related to hours,” said Fr. Felton. “We were also asking for each diocesan office to review its budget through the end of this fiscal year and to make budget reductions.”
Fr. Felton said two primary sources of funding for the diocesan offices are the Bishop’s Appeal and the cathedraticum. The cathedraticum is a fee parishes are assessed for diocesan offices that serve Bishop David Ricken.
“At this point, the 2020 Bishop’s Appeal has been very successful and people have been very generous,” he said. “Yet at the same time, the Bishop’s Appeal is continuing and we don’t quite know what the impact (of no public Masses) will be.”
Fr. Felton said that the cathedraticum has been suspended for some parishes that are now unable to meet their assessment due to loss of donations. Reducing staff hours, he said, demonstrates to parishes that “we are in alignment with them and walk with them.”
“Just knowing the volatility of resources and also wanting to be caring for our people as best we can in multiple ways, we decided that we would do a reduction of hours,” said Fr. Felton. “Just as parishes are having to readjust to perhaps not as much income coming in at this time, we want to make sure we are doing the same ourselves as a diocesan office.” He added that parishes would make decisions about reduction of staff hours on their own.
Making a shared sacrifice, “for everyone — from the person who is in housekeeping to the bishop — is in keeping with a new culture we are trying to create,” said Fr. Felton. (The “shared sacrifice” of reduced hours includes Bishop Ricken and Fr. Felton.) “If everybody could make that sacrifice, then it would be for the good of all, versus having to perhaps have some specific positions” eliminated.
While the reduction in work hours has a financial impact, Buechel and Fr. Felton said the decision was also based on one question: “How can we best care and love for our people and support them?”
“Part of the philosophy behind all of this is that … sometimes our sacrifices are made out of love. They are being driven by how we can best care for one another, not by finances,” said Fr. Felton.
“It’s really about the greater good,” said Buechel. “How do we serve, as an essential service, the greater good of our communities, both directly in the financial relief of the staffing adjustment, but also by going outside of ourselves and loving all of our people?”
Buechel said that the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump March 27 may help the diocese and parishes ease or overcome their financial uncertainties.
“We are combing through CARES to help us ensure that if we participate in any of the loans or funding, that we don’t compromise our religious exemption from certain laws that allow us our freedom to express our Catholicism and be true to our teachings,” she said.
“At the same time, if we do qualify and those conditions are met, there may be opportunities for us to be able to receive funding from facets of that bill, which would be helpful to our parishes, especially when we are looking at reduction of hours and possible furloughs or layoffs,” added Fr. Felton.
While the reduction of employee hours and wages is scheduled to end on May 1, Fr. Felton said much depends on how long the pandemic lasts. “As we move from day to day, we are constantly evaluating where we are at and what may have to be the next steps if this would continue for a longer period of time,” he said, “just as businesses and other institutions are evaluating that as well.”
Fr. Felton said that all people of faith have a role to play in overcoming the pandemic.
“We are disciples of the Lord and we are seeking to care for each other during this period of time,” he said. “I think that is the most important thing people can be doing: caring for one another, loving each other, supporting one another, supporting their parish. That’s the key to everything: living out the mission Jesus gave us, to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved in return.”