US bishops to vote on plan to restructure, downsize

.- The United States bishops are expected to vote on a proposed restructuring of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its offices at their annual November plenary meeting in Baltimore.

The restructuring is aimed at creating a more focused, smaller, and less costly conference.

The Committee on Priorities and Plans, responsible for strategic planning and chaired by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, drew up the proposed plan, which it believes would increase flexibility, responsiveness, creativity, and collaboration.  

The plan would reduce the USCCB’s 68 committees, subcommittees, and task forces to 34. Staff offices would be restructured, contributing to a 16 percent or $1.9-million reduction in the annual diocesan assessment toward the USCCB yearly budget.
The Committee on Priorities and Plans would also provide more oversight to assure that the USCCB emphasizes major themes or priorities in three-to-five-year cycles. The proposed priorities for 2008 to 2011 include an initiative supporting marriage, vocations to priesthood and religious life, faith formation based on sacramental practice, and the life and dignity of the human person.

USCCB Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and Catholic News Service (CNS) are not part of the present restructuring. Without MRS and CNS, there are 225 current USCCB employees. Over the past two years, about 35 positions became vacant through attrition and are not expected to be filled. It is expected that another 28 positions will be eliminated.

There will be greater use of outside consultants to assist committees, such as the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The Department of Education would be divided into two separate offices, one for evangelization and catechesis and the other for Catholic education.

In another change, the natural family planning office would move from the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities to an office that would address the laity, marriage, family life, and youth.