Rockville Centre Diocese revamp will cut workforce

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is launching a sweeping reorganization that will sharply reduce its workforce and result in a more efficient operation of its parish programs, church officials said Monday.

The diocese said voluntary buyouts would be offered to some 1,500 eligible full-time and part-time employees, or 25 percent of its 6,000-person workforce in parishes and diocesan headquarters. However, it did not say how many jobs it was seeking to cut, and some of those who take buyouts will be replaced. The diocese is one of Long Island's largest employers.

The voluntary separation offers will be made starting next month to employees including parish administrators, directors of religious education, outreach workers, maintenance people and non-unionized elementary school teachers. Those offered the buyout will have 45 days to decide.

In a letter released last week and posted on the diocesan newspaper Web site, Bishop William Murphy said the diocese is carrying out the program because "the expenses associated with the ministries and services we provide . . . exceed the donations you, as good stewards, make."

Nearly half the 133 parishes in the diocese operate at a deficit despite steady donations, in part because of an increase in requests for the church's services, diocesan officials said.

Charles Trunz III, a former Wall Street executive hired by Murphy last year for the new position of chief operating officer, said the overhaul does not include plans to close or consolidate schools or parishes.

"It's just the opposite," Trunz said in an interview Monday in his first detailed public comments about the program. "This plan is allowing us to create new surpluses to keep those parishes and schools open."

Trunz said the plan would help the diocese better organize itself and improve its finances by gaining greater efficiency in part through technology and shared services. For example, while some administrative jobs are likely to be eliminated, a Center of Excellence is being created at the diocesan level to help guide parishes in administration, financial management, building and construction, and human resources. Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals are not included in the buyout plans.

Also, the diocese plans to institute employee evaluations after the buyout period.

Trunz met Monday with about 200 directors of religious education to inform them about the plan.

Many were reluctant to comment after, but one person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said people left "gloomy" and apprehensive about the buyout and evaluation system.

She said many still had unanswered questions, and feared that if they do not take the buyout they could be fired later after a poor evaluation or if the diocese decided a job was no longer necessary.

Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said that even though the buyouts will likely result in a "substantial" reduction in the workforce, the church will strive to maintain the same level of services for parishioners, in part through greater efficiency.

Trunz said the voluntary separation offer "was very, very compassionate because people have dedicated their life to the church," Trunz said.

The employee performance evaluations will start in the spring or summer. It is possible some positions could be eliminated after the buyout period, diocesan officials said.

Richard Grafer, accountant and member of the Voice of the Faithful, frequent critics of the church, said the goal of eliminating inefficiency was a good one. However, he said the diocese has a healthy operating reserve fund, and should not eliminate jobs to boost that surplus.

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