The cathedral’s breakfast sandwich line for the homeless and the food pantry will continue to operate for the time being, he said. But the local chapter of St. Vincent DePaul, which typically provides about $5,000 worth of support per month to families in need, is “out of money.”
Catholics will likely help parishes first
Mario Enzler, program director for the Online Masters of Science in Ecclesial Administration and Management at the Catholic University of America, told CNA he recommends to priests that a parish keep on hand enough money for at least one month of operations.
He said parish priests— many of whom are former students in his program— have been calling him asking for advice during the coronavirus crisis.
"Yes, cash flow will suffer...but as I told several priests, you'll be blown away by how your parishioners will become a force for unity," Enzler said.
He said he also recently spoke to a diocesan vicar general, who is concerned about the diocesan annual appeal. That's different, he said.
"Parishioners will, first and foremost, identify themselves as a member of a specific parish, rather than of a diocese," Enzler said.
"So people will help the pastor before they think, I have to also help the bishop and the chancery and so on and so forth."
Enzler said he has been telling priests who have been reaching out to him asking for advice on how to communicate with parishioners simply not to go into "panic mode."
Talking to the priests who have contacted him, he said, "I did not sense a panic. There is a concern, they are aware of the financial repercussions, but at the same time with good crisis management skills, with good communication skills, with good use of digital platforms, they're not going to be penalized."
Reserves can help
Parishes in many dioceses have the option of depositing funds with the diocese as a kind of savings account.
Father Ryan Hilderbrand, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, Indiana, told CNA that in the Diocese of Evansville, parishes sends excess money to a reserve fund managed by diocese which functions like a bank for parishes; he told CNA deposits can be withdrawn at any time for any reason.
Hilderbrand said this method of saving keeps the parish’s cash safe from market fluctuations.
“Generally speaking, if I ask the diocese for cash out of our savings, I will have a check in-hand within 48 hours,” he said.
Hilderbrand said his savings at diocese, along with endowments from parishioners has allowed the parish to build up a reserve fund. The priest estimates he could pay for parish staff and upkeep of the parish for six months, even if all income dried up.
‘My parish has been blessed with great financial stability in the past. We have not had to use those proceeds [from the endowments] for many years,” he said.
“Thus, those proceeds have been building up over the years. If we need to tap into them, we can.”
Enzler said many priests throughout the country will have to make a similar calculation, and many people will likely have to share resources to keep parishes afloat during the coronavirus crisis.
He recommended that parishes especially well-prepared for a crisis ought to call up struggling parishes and offer to share resources. Dioceses, too, ought to do the same for fellow dioceses, he said.
“If a pastor knows that a neighboring parish is suffering, and he has an abundance of assets or goods, yes, he should share them with common sense. Because the goods of the parish belong to the people of God,” he said.
Ultimately, Enzler said, if parishes don't have access to an emergency fund, it's simply time to turn the heat in the church down to 50— something Father Lajoie said he plans to do as soon as he can.
"If we have to all sacrifice, this is what we as Catholics are called to," Enzler said.
"This is an amazing opportunity for all of us to come together and help one another and love one another, and to not leave our priests alone."