A bulletin over a ShareLife poster notifies parishioners of the cancellation of Masses. Michael Swan

Dioceses expect financial lift as church doors open

By 
  • June 19, 2020

With churches across Ontario getting the go-ahead to open their doors, and most set to resume Sunday Masses June 21, it should alleviate some of the financial burden for dioceses still awaiting government relief through the Canada Wage Subsidy program.

June 6 has come and gone and the Archdiocese of Toronto has not altered its plans to maintain full staffing levels. Originally, it seemed the archdiocese would need to curb costs through staff layoffs, including parish priests, and wage cuts for senior staff. That plan was shelved in mid-April because of the subsidy program put in place to help workplaces deal with funding issues surrounding COVID-19. While the archdiocese hasn’t seen any money from the program — which has not been approved by Parliament but is expected to be soon — it anticipates that money to be forthcoming.

“We’re still operating on the assumption that the deadline the government put out is still valid,” said Jim Milway, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs.

Dioceses like Toronto have already applied for the first month of subsidies, which is to pay up to 75 per cent of salaries to eligible employers for up to 12 weeks retroactive to March 15.

In the Ottawa-Cornwall archdiocese, the wage subsidy allowed for the return to work for laid off staff at the diocesan and parish levels. A number had been laid off when the pandemic first hit and then in a second wave of layoffs in early April, said communications director Robert Du Broy.

“We were blessed to be able to recall all laid off staff as of May 10 thanks to the payroll subsidy program,” said Du Broy.

Some parishes within Ottawa-Cornwall opened their doors June 13-14, though most are making sure they can comply with government regulations and are holding back until June 20-21, he said. But volunteers will be playing a large role in maintaining hygiene in parishes.

Dioceses are expecting a financial bump with the resumption of parish collections in church, though with maximum capacity set at 30 per cent, there will be fewer parishioners to fill the collection basket.

“The challenge is going to be that not that many people can go to Mass,” said Milway.

“The 30 per cent is there but the real constraint is the social distancing and I think what most churches are finding is that when they go in to measure (to meet regulations), they can’t get 30 per cent.”

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