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U.S. bishops’ conference lays off several social justice staff members

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USCCB President Archbishop Timothy Broglio speaks at the bishops’ spring meeting, Thursday, June 13, 2024. / Credit: USCCB

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 26, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has laid off staff members from a department specializing in social justice initiatives that has been at the center of controversy over the years.

Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the USCCB, said that “several” staff members serving in the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development were let go on Monday.

She noted that among those laid off were staff members at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the national anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops. 

The CCHD was the topic of a behind-closed-doors discussion at the bishops’ June plenary assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. The program had experienced a financial shortfall amid a decline in donations following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over the years the program has generated controversy and criticism. Beginning in 2008, the CCHD was faulted by activists — and some Catholic bishops — for funding organizations that have taken positions contrary to Church teaching, such as on abortion and same-sex marriage.

In 2010, the USCCB instituted new controls to help ensure that grantees conform with Catholic teaching.

The layoffs were part of a “reorganization” that will “allow the conference to align resources more closely with recent funding trends,” Noguchi said.

The bishops’ spokesperson noted that “as this is a personnel matter, further detail will not be discussed at this time.” 

It is not clear whether any other committees within the department were affected by the staff cuts.

The Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development is dedicated to advancing Catholic social teaching regarding peace, poverty, racism, and the environment through educational initiatives, fundraising, and the promotion of policies benefiting the marginalized.

The department oversees the Committee on International Justice and Peace, the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The office also includes an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which is led by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry.

Noguchi noted that though the staff of the CCHD were affected by the layoffs, its national collection and awarding of grants will continue. 

“The CCHD subcommittee will continue its work,” she said, noting that “in the interest of good stewardship, the administration of the collection is being reorganized to allow for more efficient management.”

Noguchi quoted USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Broglio’s words at the assembly when he said that “in all these discussions, the bishops’ ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty was clear.” 

Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of a lay-led Catholic social justice group called Pax Christi, told CNA that he is concerned about the layoffs. 

“The thing that I’m most afraid of is that it says that the Church is retreating from some of those places in our society where the Church is most needed,” he explained. “Whether it’s support for immigrants, whether it’s solidarity with marginalized communities, especially communities that are steeped in poverty, that by cutting these offices, the Church is saying that we’re retreating from that work.”

Zokovitch said the USCCB department and his organization share overlapping missions and often interact and collaborate. This shared work, he said, continues what he called a long history of the Church “standing on the side of people who are poor and marginalized, people who are victims in society, whether it’s because of conflicts and war, or whether it’s because of policies that somehow jeopardize their human dignity.”

“Jesus said he would be present where the least of our brothers and sisters are present,” he went on. “For the Church to cut these offices that were doing that work with the least of these says that we’re abandoning Jesus.”


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