WASHINGTON (September 29, 2006)—A strategic planning process proposing a restructured United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its staff offices is slated for a vote at the annual November plenary meeting in Baltimore.
The restructuring has been recommended by the Committee on Priorities and Plans, chaired by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, NM. The committee, which is responsible for strategic planning, aims to create a more focused, smaller and less costly conference. The process follows a report from the USCCB Task Force on Activities and Resources that called for "a mechanism for Conference-wide strategic planning, implementation and assessment." Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington chaired the task force that produced the report adopted by the bishops in November 2004.
The restructuring involves reducing the current 68 committees, subcommittees and task forces of bishops to 34. Staff offices corresponding to the committees will be restructured, contributing to a 16 percent or $1.9 million reduction in the annual diocesan assessment toward the USCCB yearly budget. The conference budget for 2007 is $139 million, with $11.9 million, or nine percent, coming from the assessment. The rest of the budget comes from national collections, government contracts, foundation grants and sales/royalties.
Goals of the strategic plan include providing more oversight by the Priorities and Plans Committee to assure that the USCCB emphasizes major themes or priorities in three-to-five-year cycles. The proposed priorities for the 2008-2011 cycle include an initiative supporting marriage, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, faith formation based on sacramental practice, and the life and dignity of the human person. The bishops also will be asked to
consider adding a fifth priority to address cultural diversity in the Church. The new organization is expected to be flexible enough to allow the USCCB to address significant public policy and other issues as they arise.
USCCB Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and Catholic News Service (CNS) are not part of the present restructuring. Without MRS and CNS, there are 225 current USCCB employees. Over the past two years, about 35 positions became vacant through attrition and are not expected to be filled. It is expected that another 28 positions will be eliminated.
Strategic planning measures include joining similar committees and offices to achieve more efficiency and preparing for future developments, such as an increase in cultural diversity. The committees and offices are expected to work together more organically. The Priorities and Plans Committee believes that by clustering issues and responsibilities there will be increased flexibility, responsiveness, creativity and collaboration.
Offices which deal with ethnic groups and special ministries, such as the offices for Hispanic Affairs, African American Catholics and Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, will be combined into an Office for Cultural Diversity in the Church. It will address concerns of ethnic U.S. Catholic groups, including African Americans and Africans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and Native Americans, as well as people on the move, such as migrants and seafarers. The new office will allow the USCCB to address the Church's increasingly diverse population and reflect models of ethnic ministries found in several dioceses. The Priorities and Plans Committee expects that committees and USCCB offices that address ethnic groups will not only continue but will expand their work among established and new ethnic communities in the Church.
The three current USCCB offices for priests, seminarians and deacons will be combined into one new Office for Clergy and Consecrated Life. The office will staff the new Committee on Clergy and Consecrated Life, formed by combining six Committees on Priestly Life and Ministry, Diaconate, Priestly Formation, Vocations, Consecrated Life and Bishops' Life and Ministry.
The plan seeks to achieve economies of scale. A new National Collections Office will be established combining offices which currently collect and distribute funds for Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, Home Missions and the Church in Latin America. The office will handle the production of promotional materials and data bases for other collections, including the national collections for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Catholic
Communication Campaign (CCC), and Africa. The programming and grant distribution components of CCC will remain in the Communications Department.
Programming and grant distribution for CCHD will be part of a new Office for Human Development and World Peace, created by joining CCHD and the Department for Social Development and World Peace. Combining the advocacy, empowerment, and social justice education efforts of the conference into one committee and one office will integrate and strengthen the social ministry of the Church.
The Communications Department will expand to include Internet Content Management and USCCB Publishing in addition to Media Relations, Catholic News Service, CCC and Film and Broadcasting, to create a total communications outreach. The functions of the USCCB library are slated to be combined with other offices, and the library itself will close.
There also will be greater use of outside consultants to assist committees such as the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, which engages in dialogues with various faith communities.
The Department of Education will be divided into two separate offices, one for Evangelization and Catechesis and the other for Catholic Education. This will allow evangelization and catechesis initiatives to be aligned with the other USCCB pastoral ministries, and public policy on Catholic schools to be aligned with other USCCB public policy efforts.
In another change Natural Family Planning will move from Pro-Life Activities to the office that will address the concerns of laity, marriage, family life and youth, which oversees marriage preparation. Women's issues will continue to be part of the responsibility of that office.
In a related matter, USCCB employees will pay more toward their medical and dental costs, increasing their contributions to monthly premiums from 10 to 15 percent for employee and dependent coverage in 2007; and paying 15 percent for employee coverage plus 20 percent for dependent coverage in 2008. This enables employees to maintain a comprehensive, just and competitive benefits package while reducing the overall rate the conference pays for benefits from 41 percent of salary dollars to 35 percent in 2008, a move estimated to trim expenses by almost $1.2 million.