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Archdiocese's Programs, Staff Hit Hard by Cuts

Religion: Work with students and prisoners is expected to suffer as ministries are curtailed.


For 13 years as director of Catholic Ministries at Cal State L.A., Robert Warren met the needs of hundreds of students. He had joined them at Mass, listened to their concerns and smiled at their triumphs.

So when he entered his office on campus earlier this week, Warren was a little surprised by what he saw--students huddled to talk about holding a bake sale to help his family.

Warren, 52, is one of scores of employees of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles who are losing their jobs because of $4.3 million in cutbacks in the church's $42-million headquarters operating budget.

Offices of seven ministries, including outreach programs to college students, women, gay men and lesbians, ethnic groups, and those with physical and mental disabilities, are being closed in mid-October.

Others, including family life, prison and religious education ministries are seeing their work forces cut by as much as 50%. So far, 60 positions have been cut.

The retrenchment by the nation's most populous Roman Catholic archdiocese, which covers Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, began to take on a human face Thursday.

Sister Suzanne Jabro, director of Detention Ministry, spoke of an encounter between a prisoner and his departing chaplain, Deacon Paulino Juarez-Ramirez.

"Who is going to care for us?," the prisoner asked.

"We just don't know yet," Jabro said the deacon replied.

At archdiocesan headquarters in the Mid-Wilshire district, an older employee offered to give up her salary so a man with a young family could keep his job. A nun volunteered to call her superior to ask if her salary could be paid to someone else. "I was really moved," said Jabro, who spoke of the offers on Thursday.

"They're not just names and numbers," said Tod Tamberg, archdiocesan spokesman. "They're friends and co-workers. I know these people. That makes it doubly difficult."

Along with sadness and anxiety, there has also been anger. Some employees on Thursday wondered why Cardinal Roger M. Mahony was not present when the headquarters staff was warned of the upcoming budget cuts during a meeting Sept. 10. Mahony told The Times on Wednesday he did not attend because Msgr. Terrance L. Fleming, who, as vicar general is, in effect, his chief of staff, was in charge of departments.

"He had the answers to all the questions I didn't have," Mahony said.

Some employees also speculated that the meeting date--just a day before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--was chosen because the news media would likely be preoccupied.

But most of the concern was over what would happen to those served by ministries being closed.

Mahony has said he expects local parishes to pick up many of the tasks. Others question whether that is realistic.

In jails and prisons, "volunteers just can't walk in. These are secure facilities. [Volunteers] have to be cleared. They have to be trained and supervised. There are sections like solitary confinement where a volunteer is not going to be wandering," said Jabro.

The detention ministry is losing half of the 24 full-time Catholic chaplains who serve incarcerated men, women and juveniles, as well as their families, and victims of crime.

The chaplains also have supervised 1,400 volunteers, who visit jails on behalf of the church.

"This will dramatically affect the L.A. County Jail and Twin Towers," Jabro said.

At the college ministry, Father Robert Sadowski, director of University Catholic Center, which serves UCLA, said parishes near many campuses already find it difficult to meet the needs of their own people without adding campus ministry. The UCLA program is not being cut, although programs at six other campuses will end.

"Campus life is a different animal than parish ministry. It's not something that is easy to succeed at if you're really not doing it full time," Sadowski said. For a campus ministry to flourish, students must feel a connection to a campus minister, he said.

"If you're doing things out of your back pocket, it's going to be very difficult to succeed," Sadowski said. "I'm not saying you can't succeed, but it just increases the difficulty level exponentially."

At Cal State L.A., Warren said that even though he has lost his job, he is focusing on keeping the Catholic student group together after he leaves. He is leaving them with telephone numbers to call if they want a priest to celebrate Mass or arrange a retreat or need material for Bible study or personal growth workshops.

"We're giving them as many resources as possible," Warren said. "Our students are really phenomenal. But they all go to school full time and work a minimum of 20 to 40 hours a week.

"It's never been done before, but I've seen students do phenomenal things," he said. "We've put together some incredible service projects at the last minute."

As for his own future, Warren said he is telling his students not to worry about him. "I made it clear, we'll survive and I'll move on. I have a severance package."

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