Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Diocese Tries to Save Services as D.C. Heads for Bankruptcy

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Diocese Tries to Save Services as D.C. Heads for Bankruptcy

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - As city officials try to ward off bankruptcy, local Catholic church leaders have launched an unprecedented lobbying effort on behalf of the growing number of poor and vulnerable expected to land, hands out, outside church doors.

With a projected budget deficit of $722 million, the city is expected to run out of money sometime this month. Martin Mellet, acting director of Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the city's budget woes have already taken a toll. "We are pretty pessimistic at this point."

His remark came just as news broke on Capitol Hill that the General Accounting Office had declared the city insolvent, without enough money to pay all its bills.

This news came as no surprise to Catholic church officials. In recent months, the district government had fallen behind in payments on the $14 million in contracts it has with the church's five social service agencies, according to Mellet. As a result, the agencies, worried about their own survival, have begun to look at ways to reorganize and downsize.

"I don't think any of our agencies will shut down, but I do think we are going to have to look at what we can and cannot do anymore," Mellet said. "There is definitely going to be a curtailment of services."

For the first time in several years, Cardinal James Hickey met recently with members of the City Council and is trying to set up a meeting with Washington Mayor Marion Barry to "state pretty clearly that the Catholic well of money is not unending, there is a limit," Mellet said. Some government leaders have called on churches and charitable organizations to do more to help the city's poor, but care providers say their recources are already stretched thin.

The local Catholic church has long been a prominent charitable presence in the nation's capitol. Associated Catholic Charities, one of the five agencies run by the archdiocese, provides assistance to about 90,000 people a year throughout the archdiocese.

With 290 employees and an annual budget of $13.5 million, a portion coming from the city, Catholic Charities' services include child welfare, foster care, family preservation and immigration and refugee services. It is also one of the largest service providers for the city's homeless, operating eight emergency and transitional shelters.

"There is no question that the government is heavily reliant on the church for providing services in the district," said Edward Orzechowski, Catholic Charities executive director. …

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