Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Subsidy saves jobs in Toronto archdiocese

  • April 3, 2020

Relief programs implemented by the federal government to counter the economic fallout from COVID-19 have staved off significant pay cuts for priests and saved staff at the Archdiocese of Toronto offices and parishes from layoffs. 

But the financial pain of the pandemic has been felt in a number of dioceses that lack the financial means to withstand the lack of resources coming in with the cessation of Sunday Masses.With churches closed, the main source of revenue has abruptly stopped.

“The reason we’re in our trouble is because we have no collections coming in,” said James Milway, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs at the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The archdiocese was set to implement emergency cost-containment measures to deal with the crippling economic effects of the crisis, including a 30-per-cent wage decrease for parish priests. Instructions had been sent to parishes and departments on March 27 regarding pending job losses and reduced wages for some staff. But that changed April 1 when Ottawa announced a program that will provide a 75-per-cent subsidy to eligible employers to help pay employee wages for up to 12 weeks, retroactive to March 15.

“We have very positive news to share with everyone today,” said Stephanie Nargoz, director of human resources for the archdiocese in an April 2 memo to all parishes and chancery staff. “The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program will enable us to keep all of our employees and clergy on payroll at 100 per cent of their regular earnings until June 6, 2020.”

The subsidy may have saved Toronto archdiocese jobs for the time being, but others were not so fortunate. Hundreds of staff and priests have been laid off and encouraged to apply for Employment Insurance, a move St. Hyacinthe Bishop Christian Rodembourg called “heartbreaking.”

“We don’t have any revenue in our parishes for three weeks, a month,” said Fr. Claude Lamoureux, St. Hyacinthe’s moderator of diocesan services. “We need to be able to continue after the (COVID-19) with our mission.”

The Archdiocese of Ottawa has also been hit by financial issues. Some staff were laid off when the diocesan office closed March 25, and more joined that list on April 6, said communications director Robert Dubroy. “Every decision to lay off a valued employee has been a difficult one and required much reflection and discernment,” he said.

Though some dioceses are cutting back, others like the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil decided to do the opposite. In times of crisis, the diocesan Church must “remain prophetic,” Bishop Claude Hamelin said. The diocese must commit its staff to “what we know how to do best,” he said, “putting ourselves at the service of one another.”

In Toronto, the archdiocese’s original plan proposed a combination of measures, including remote working arrangements, temporary leaves, contract suspensions and some voluntary salary reductions.

Trying to remind parishioners of these troubles is a delicate matter, as the archdiocese recognizes many are experiencing similar pain.

“It’s a tough message because we know that parishioners are in dire straits themselves, they’ve got to feed their own family,” said Milway.

Still, the archdiocese is asking parishioners to remember the Church and many have responded with electronic donations.

Although staff positions are safe for now, independent contractors like church musicians will not be so lucky, and “it still makes sense to suspend all contracts,” though terms of written agreements must be honoured, said Nargoz.

The chancery office, churches and other offices not deemed essential by government authorities remain closed, though staff are working remotely. Ordinations of new priests scheduled for May have been postponed until August.

Last modified on April 8, 2020

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