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Spotlight Report

Catholic Charities plans cuts

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/26/2002

Catholic Charities, the state's largest private social services agency, is planning to lay off up to 15 percent of its staff and to close some programs as a result of the state budget crisis, the Archdiocese of Boston said.

The cuts follow the announcement of deep budget cuts at the archdiocese, including what employees say is a recently imposed salary freeze, as well as the planned closing of three local Catholic schools and a postponement of the closing date for the church's $300 million capital campaign.

The church says the budget cutbacks are not related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which is costing the archdiocese tens of millions of dollars. Instead, church officials chalk up the financial difficulties to the state's weakened economy.

''Since the recession, the state has been cutting contracts, and we've had several contract adjustments downward,'' said Joseph Doolin, president of Catholic Charities. ''In some areas, we have been making up the shortfall, but there is only so long you can do that.''

Doolin said Catholic Charities is also rethinking its mission, with an aim at focusing its efforts on child welfare. He said the agency may change or transfer to other social service agencies some programs helping the homeless and people with AIDS. ''Our strategic direction is more toward the core services of child welfare: child abuse prevention, child care, early childhood development, and adoption,'' he said. ''We're looking at programs we're now running that could be run by other organizations.''

Doolin said he expects to cut 15 percent of his budget and to lay off 100-200 of his 1,400 employees. He said the layoffs are required by a budget shortfall: The agency will spend $41 million this year, but will take in only $40 million. Last year, the agency overspent its revenues by $500,000.

The agency last ran a deficit a decade ago, during a Massachusetts recession.

Catholic Charities depends on state funding for 53 percent of its revenue; the balance comes from private fund-raising, United Way grants, and client copayments. Less than 2 percent of the agency's funding comes from the church, and Doolin said the agency is reimbursed by the church for any expenses related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, such as providing counseling for parishes where a priest is accused of misconduct.

But the impact of the clergy sexual abuse crisis on the church has forced Catholic Charities to scrap its annual Garden Party, a fund-raiser held for the last 25 years in the backyard of the cardinal's residence in Brighton. The party has been a major event on the city's social calendar. Last year 900 people attended, helping the agency raise $1.4 million.

Because the scandal made celebration at the cardinal's house seem inappropriate to Catholic Charities donors and board members, the agency has instead decided to try to raise $1.5 million through telephone and mail solicitations targeting 20,000 previous contributors.

''The dire economic straits and the current situation do not lend themselves to a party atmosphere,'' said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Maureen March. ''We're going to take an unprecedented step and do our fund-raiser in a virtual fashion.''

Catholic Charities, founded in 1903 as an adoption agency, now provides a broad array of social services, including adoption and foster care programs, child care, elder care, AIDS education and prevention programs, substance abuse programs, refugee assistance, and emergency assistance for people without food or homes. The agency provided services to 173,000 people last year, according to its annual report.

Doolin said he expects Catholic Charities increasingly to move away from running residential programs, which now include six homeless shelters and homes for unwed mothers and people with AIDS. The agency has already closed a home for troubled teenagers in Lawrence and is planning to close one in Lynn, and has closed a home health-aide program in Brockton and transferred a congregate care facility to the Brockton housing authority.

Harvey Boulay, spokesman for Vinfen, a Cambridge-based social services organization, said he is ''not surprised'' by the Catholic Charities cuts. He said his agency has not yet had to make cutbacks, but is worried. ''Other organizations are being hard hit already, and we certainly see some clouds on the horizon,'' Boulay said.

State officials declined to comment on the specifics of the Catholic Charities situation, but acknowledged that social services funding is tight. ''We are facing difficult economic times,'' said Rich Copp, spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/26/2002.
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