Dioceses learning to deal with cash crunch

  • May 8, 2020

Cash-strapped dioceses across Canada have been applying for assistance through federal programs but they don’t expect to see any money until at least June.

“The federal government’s been pretty good at getting money out the door so I think June is being overly cautious, but we’ve assumed June,” said Jim Milway, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Dioceses across Canada, like many businesses, are caught in a cash crunch due to government restrictions to battle the virus. Churches have been closed since mid-March, with no Sunday Masses. That means no weekly collections, which is what sustains parishes.

Layoffs, including priests in parts of Quebec, have occurred in some dioceses and other layoffs could still come. The wage subsidy announcement saved jobs in the Toronto archdiocese until at least June 6, while the archdiocese awaits government funds.

St. Hyacinthe, Que., and Ottawa are two dioceses that laid off staff.

Milway understands parishes may face hardships and has been working with them to maintain a solid financial foundation. He expects some may have issues meeting payroll, but the archdiocese can provide overdraft coverage or an emergency loan.

“If you see you’re going to be in trouble, give us a call,” he said. “We’re a very forgiving, very helpful lender.”

The archdiocese was preparing a wage subsidy application in early May and planned to send a collective application as one entity on behalf of all 225 parishes and the chancery, said Milway. The archdiocese had actually received various legal and auditor’s opinions that said it should send 226 applications. It finally settled on sending one.

Milway is “hopeful” churches  will be open by June 6, but has his doubts, and that may force the archdiocese to once again consider layoffs and wage reductions. That’s unless the subsidy program is expanded.

“We’ve given everybody as much of a head’s up as we can that look, we know for certain this program is in place until June 6, but after that if the subsidy doesn’t continue and we’re not back in church, we may have to get back in the layoff business. And we really don’t want to do that.”

Meanwhile, parishioners have been coming to the rescue at many parishes. Donations have been received, including a parishioner at one parish who donated what would normally be collected one weekend, said Milway.

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