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Diocese invites employees as volunteers after buyout

As the Diocese of Rockville Centre implements a buyout plan for up to 1,500 employees, the church may look increasingly to volunteers to help provide services, officials said.

One reason the church has fallen into tough times financially is because it now pays people to do work previously done by many volunteers including priests, nuns and lay people, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said Tuesday.

While not an "integral" part of the diocesan reorganization, welcoming back current workers as volunteers in the future will be permitted, Dolan said.

"The beauty about this program is that any of our people can come back as volunteers," said Charles Trunz III, the diocese's new chief operating officer who is overseeing the reorganization. "There are many, many opportunities to volunteer and help our church."

Dan Bartley, national head of Voice of the Faithful, a group often critical of the church hierarchy, said inviting back workers as volunteers "sounds like a very callous approach to people's livelihoods especially during such difficult economic times." He suggested the diocese use some of its operating surplus to support the workers.

Dolan said the buyout plan is not "looking to replace a paid person with a volunteer person to do comparable work." He added the church is "still basically a paid model."

But Our Lady of The Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch may serve as a model of the future church, said its pastor, the Rev. Bill Brisotti. The parish has just a handful of employees and numerous volunteers.

Trunz publicly discussed the voluntary separation plan for the first time Monday. It affects up to 25 percent of the diocese's workforce of 6,000 and includes directors of religious education, secretaries, outreach workers, some teachers, and administrators. Workers have until late March to decide.

Meanwhile, Voice of the Faithful members contend the reorganization will place more power in the hands of Bishop William Murphy. The diocese's plan calls for creating a diocesan Center of Excellence to provide services to parishes in administration, finances, legal work, building and construction, and human resources, Trunz said.

Dolan acknowledged the move will create more centralization, but said that could be good.

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