Massive reconstruction of diocesan infrastructure needed in Katrina’s wake

.- Dioceses in the Gulf Coast have faced unparalleled devastation from Hurricane Katrina and will need massive reconstruction, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, once the clean up is done.

Bishops from dioceses in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama communicated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), giving indications about the extent of the damage and how dioceses had been affected.

Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, Mississippi, reached the USCCB by cell phone and said 20 percent of the diocese's churches and a third of its schools have been destroyed. Every rectory, school, convent and diocesan building sustained moderate to severe damage, he said. He was working from his office where there was no water or electricity.

USCCB president Bishop William Skylstad had tried to communicate with all the bishops; some, however, could not be reached.

"All the bishops of the United States are concerned for the number of church personnel who are isolated, working under great adversity, and perhaps not even aware that the whole country is praying for them," he said. "We don't even know if all of them are safe."

Bishop Skylstad pointed out that most of the affected dioceses are Home Mission dioceses, “which struggle to survive under the best of conditions" and rely on the financial support of other dioceses to fund basic pastoral life.

What to do, then, when faced with the massive cost of reconstruction in the months and years ahead?

In his cyber-column “The Window”, Deal Hudson reports that reconstruction of Catholic infrastructure in the Archdiocese of New Orleans alone could easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hundreds of millions needed

Hudson cites Pat O'Meara, who specializes in financial advisory work for the Catholic Church, who said the average cost of rebuilding a high school could go up to $25 million and a grade school could go as high as $10 million. At this rate, if half only have of the diocesan Catholic schools would be replaced, it would cost about $287,000,000, Hudson estimates.

In addition, the cost of building an inexpensive parish church could range from $5 million to $9 million, and restoration of a more elaborate or historic structure could cost up to $20 million or more.

While a lot of the money would come from diocesan insurance coverage, in most cases the plan only includes the cost of rebuilding the structure and not the foundations, Hudson points out.

In the meantime, inland dioceses, in a show of extraordinary charity, have “adopted” the dioceses that were most affected by the hurricane, Hudson reports.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge adopted the Archdiocese of New Orleans; the Diocese of Jackson adopted the Diocese of Biloxi; and the Diocese of Lafayette adopted the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. They will offer temporary office space and equipment, computers, telephones and the help of local diocesan staff.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge are preparing to double their class size and take in students from the Diocese of New Orleans. They are also offering housing to displaced families.

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