Difficult Times

Every day presents its own challenges, and no week is immune from difficulties, but recent weeks and months have been particularly trying.

As you know, for the past eight years I have attempted in every way to keep all our parishes and schools open and functioning to the maximum extent possible. Various factors have continued to accumulate, however, which make that goal no longer possible. You have already heard of recent closings, mergers, and consolidations.

The national economy is a major problem. We in Western New York for the most part did not participate in the boom years of the nineties. Employment has suffered here and people have moved to other areas in search of better paying jobs. The recent national problems have aggravated all the more the economic situation here.

For our administrative operations and funding of programs, the Diocese relies on three major sources: income on investments, the annual appeal, and parish assessments. Our recent Catholic Charities - Bishop's Fund for the Faith Appeal was a record success. Though the goal - $10,250,000 - was the highest ever, we surpassed it on Palm Sunday night. Following the trend of recent years, the donors were fewer in number, but the per capita giving continued to increase. This is striking evidence once more of the generosity of our people and the leadership of our clergy, religious, and lay people. We are profoundly grateful.

The parish assessments have remained solid, and we are especially appreciative that our parishes have been able for the most part to maintain the pace.

There have been major problems, as everyone knows, with the stock market. Thanks to our professional money managers, our investment counsel, and our Diocesan Investment Committee, we have consistently performed better than the benchmarks. Nonetheless, as reported in our audit published in the February edition of the Western New York Catholic, we have lost significant monies with the investments and have had to rely heavily on our reserves for funding.

As a result, we are no longer able to fund programs and institutions to the extent we have been supporting them. Thus we have the closures, consolidations, and mergers. We have also been forced to eliminate positions in central offices and let people go.

I meet individually with the people who are going to thank them for all their service to the Diocese. While it is true that our cutbacks are not as severe as other dioceses, that is small consolation to our employees who are leaving. It breaks my heart.

At the same time, the numbers of priests and religious continue to decrease. When we look across the country we realize how blessed we are in the numbers, and of course the quality, of the priests and religious who lead and serve us. We are fortunate to have ordained five transitional deacons and two priests this past month, all of them excellent people. Vocations to the priesthood for the future continue to look promising, but overall the numbers of priests and religious continue to decrease.

At all times we must exercise good stewardship, both with regard to personnel and with financial resources. Serious commitment to planning is necessary. The Catholic Health System has been operating from its strategic plan for some years now. Catholic Charities has completed its strategic plan. Our Department of Education is moving forward on a strategic plan for the Catholic schools in the Diocese.

For the past few years the planning for parishes has been focused on the Vicariate level. Substantial work has been accomplished in some Vicariates, but more has to be done as we face the future. All of us have to be involved to make the planning effective.

Priests and religious are declining in numbers, so we must be all the more judicious in their assignments. Lay people for many years have been staffing important positions throughout our Diocese. We must continue to recognize and advance their wonderful gifts. Training will continue to be needed and the resources are here: degree programs, certificate programs, regional programs, vicariate programs, and parish programs.

Lay people have the right and responsibility to exercise their gifts in the Church from Baptism. The signs of the times indicate that we must expand that exercise exponentially.

When Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches in chapter 15 of the Gospel according to Saint John, he indicates that pruning is necessary for growth. These are difficult times. Evangelization remains an essential mission of the Church. May our prayers be intensified that the Holy Spirit will give us all wisdom in our deliberations. May God continue to accomplish good works in all of us and provide the increase.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
May 25, 2003