As I write this column, I'm just home from some restful days back in Massachusetts, where I lived for 58 of my 72 years until I was called to Maine and then Western New York. It is always a grace to reconnect with cherished people and places, and to enjoy for a few days the beautiful and calming sight, sound and smells of the Atlantic Ocean.
I must admit that this year, unlike others since I've come to Buffalo, my time away for R&R was clouded by the challenges we are facing right now in our diocese. Two in particular preoccupied my mind and troubled my heart. You won't be surprised by either: the tragic sexual abuse situation, which we are working determinedly to respond to and resolve, and the financial challenges that are the cause of the painful decisions to close Daybreak, our in-house television production ministry, to pull back on some of our financial support for our former diocesan high schools, and to close our campus ministry at SUNY Fredonia. These are decisions no bishop wants to face. But they were painfully necessary and taken only after extensive analysis, consultation, reflection and prayer.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some information with you regarding the current financial state of the diocese. The Central Offices of the Diocese of Buffalo has reduced its operating budget by $1.6 million for the fiscal year beginning Sept. 1, 2018. As we have previously noted, the costs of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program will be paid from general and self-insurance investment reserves. This will result in reduced investment income in future years to support ministry. These reductions in the Central Offices have enabled the Diocese to reduce parish general assessments by 10 percent next year to allow more resources to remain in parishes to support parish based ministry. We are developing new alternatives to enhance social media communications with fewer staff, and continued outreach to Fredonia area college students. The diocese will continue to designate $400,000 in support to the former diocesan high schools with building insurance and certain employee benefit support. Our staff remains committed to providing an array of ministry to the faithful in Western New York. Please pray for them and all whom they serve.
On a positive note, I am so very grateful to all the good people whose compassion and generosity helped us to reach our $11 million Catholic Charities Appeal goal. It was a unique struggle this year as a result of the abuse crisis. I fully understand and share the disappointment, disgust, anger and betrayal so many people feel over the shameful violations of trust perpetrated in the past by a number of priests of our diocese. With changes in policies and procedures both nationally and in our diocese over the past several years, we are responding to abuse complaints better than in the past. We will continue that commitment going forward.
Regarding the Catholic Charities Appeal, though, I do not understand, and cannot accept, the logic behind the decision on the part of some individuals to express their dismay by holding back on their contributions to Catholic Charities - a decision that only harms those people who look to us for necessary assistance in times of serious need. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who did not succumb to such unfortunate and, I believe, flawed thinking.
Speaking of priests, you and I know that the great majority of our priests serve our communities day in and day out with integrity, devotion and generosity. Please pray for us all and look for opportunities to express your love and support for the priests who serve in your parish or other ministries. This is a very painful time for our presbyterate, as it is for all women and men in ministry, and for the entire church community of Western New York. This is a moment when we need to walk together in prayerful solidarity, advancing the work of evangelization even as we continue to take the steps to heal those who are hurting and purify and strengthen the integrity of the Church. With God's help and our own best efforts, we will succeed. We are people of hope.
Someone asked me the other day if, in light of the difficult diocesan situation in which we find ourselves right now, I regret having accepted the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI to become bishop of Buffalo. I gave that question a lot of thought. And my answer is no. The good that is expressed daily in the lives of our laity, clergy and religious, in our parishes and other ministries in our diocese so far outweighs the bad that I am totally confident that, building on a strong, if wounded, heritage - and always led and sustained by the Holy Spirit - we will continue to carry out the missionary discipleship which became our right and responsibility at our baptism. I will personally recommit to my own sacred responsibility as your bishop as I observe the sixth anniversary of my installation on Aug. 10.
May God bless you all!