“When people are afraid and anxious, this is when I would invite them to remember that we are a people of faith,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said at a press conference at St. Joseph’s Basilica after all Masses were suspended in the wake of COVID-19. “We recognize that God has our back, God does not let us down and He’s never aloof. Trust that God is drawing close to us — that’s the reason for our hope.” Matthew Bodnarek

Quebec dioceses start temporary layoffs

By 
  • April 3, 2020

QUEBEC CITY -- As the Quebec government tightens measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allows only essential services, the Catholic dioceses of the province have started temporary layoffs affecting hundreds of Catholic employees and priests.

The Quebec government has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses through April 13. Churches and other institutions of a religious or spiritual nature are not on the government’s list of essential services.

The Diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe announced March 23 that it is laying off all staff at its diocesan centre. It recommended parishes do the same.

“Unless there is a real need, I recommend to the parishes of the diocese to temporarily lay off, as of Friday, March 27, all personnel, including priests, so that they can benefit from employment insurance,” said Bishop Christian Rodembourg. He called the provisions “heartbreaking.”

“I do so, however, in the hope that they will help us get back on track as soon as possible,” he added.

Rodembourg left it to the parishes to evaluate their needs and financial capacities.

The dioceses of Rimouski, Gaspé and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere have made similar moves.

However, some dioceses are opting for partial layoffs. For instance, the Archdiocese of Sherbrooke is keeping its communications director.

“We want to maintain the link with the citizens, to keep them informed,” explained communications director Eliane Thibault. “We want to keep this relationship with the population even if the churches are closed.”

Some parishes in the Archdiocese of Sherbrooke have chosen to lay off their staff, but this movement was not widespread immediately.

“Some parishes prefer to lay off staff in the hope of getting back on their feet when the crisis is over,” Thibault said.

The Diocese of Nicolet wanted to postpone the possibility of layoffs as long as possible.

“Assessments of personnel needs, even for telework, have not been completed but are in the process of being completed. The one thing that has been certain since the beginning of the crisis is that we haven’t been operating with ‘one-size-fits-all’ measures and that is the dynamic we would like to see continue with regard to the possible layoff of personnel,” said communications director Jacinthe Lafrance.

The Archdiocese of Quebec City announced March 24 it was closing all nonessential services, resulting in the layoff “of most of the staff,” approximately 70 people, Auxiliary Bishop Marc Pelchat confirmed.

“An important part of the annual diocesan budget comes from parish contributions, which are currently under pressure. We must set an example as an organization that serves the communities, and that also makes the sacrifices required by a new situation,” Pelchat wrote to employees.

He also said the archdiocese is doing this to “preserve our budgetary capacity to bounce back when the crisis ends.”

However, the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil has 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.”

Layoffs are also hitting some boards of educations which have closed schools  across the country.  In Alberta, both Catholic and public boards were instructed on March 28 issue layoff notices to educational assistants and support staff by the end of April. The move was described as temporary as the province re-directs funding toward fighting COVID-19.

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