By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF AND CNS REPORTERS | Published August 3, 2006
Because the needs of two dioceses affected by Hurricane Katrina “remain staggering and extremely urgent,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked that a special national collection be taken up in August in Catholic parishes.
Sixty percent of the collection will be distributed to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and 40 percent to the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss.
The funds will be used specifically for rebuilding churches, parish buildings, Catholic schools and other diocesan structures.
In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the collection will be taken up in parishes either the weekend of Aug. 19-20 or in early September.
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said in a July 10 memo to his fellow bishops, “The needs for diocesan recovery in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Biloxi (Miss.) are as great now as they were immediately after the storms which caused them.”
American Catholics donated more than $130 million to a national collection for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita last September, but those funds went primarily to humanitarian relief, he said.
Bishop Skylstad said the 2006 national collection—approved by the bishops during their June meeting in Los Angeles—would give Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans and Bishop Thomas J. Rodi of Biloxi “greater discretion in meeting the church’s recovery and rebuilding needs within these two dioceses.”
Bishop Skylstad said that in the Mississippi diocese, with only 70,000 Catholics, church-owned structures sustained more than $70 million in damage. All but five of the 433 church-owned structures in the diocese were destroyed or severely damaged.
In New Orleans, Archbishop Hughes estimated that there was $120 million in flood damage to 397 archdiocesan buildings. The archdiocese had $13 million aggregate in flood damage insurance.
Because of the magnitude of the destruction, an archdiocesan plan has been developed to try and restore a first group of Catholic parishes and schools where there was an estimated $52.2 million in flood damage.
Using half of its flood insurance proceeds, as well as grants from Catholic Charities USA, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Home Missions, the Catholic Extension Service, and over 1,600 individual donors, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has distributed $39.1 million in rebuilding funds to 25 parishes that were flooded but have reopened.
The parishes themselves will have to come up with another $13.1 million or 25 percent of the estimated cost of rebuilding. They have been encouraged to twin with parishes or schools in other parts of the country or seek grants from sources outside the archdiocese.
Additionally, construction prices have jumped 30 to 35 percent since Hurricane Katrina.
There is another $68 million in flood damage to Catholic buildings in the New Orleans Archdiocese whose re-openings have been delayed at least two years under the archdiocesan plan. The archdiocese has placed $19 million in escrow from flood insurance and unrestricted charitable donations in the hope some of these parishes can eventually reopen and it can be used to help them partially.
“These costs place even greater burdens on people already overwhelmed by grief, dislocation and discouragement,” Bishop Skylstad said in his memo.
Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, retired head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the bishops’ Task Force on Hurricane Recovery, told the U.S. bishops, “While some of the dioceses affected by Katrina and Rita are reporting significant progress in rebuilding and recovery, extraordinary needs remain throughout the region.
“Donor intent has understandably concentrated on humanitarian relief, which remains critically important; however, ‘bricks-and-mortar’ projects … are placing exceptional burdens on the dioceses involved,” he added.
Bishop Skylstad closed the memo by quoting from an unnamed bishop in the hurricane-affected region: “Critical to the ongoing recovery is to keep the journey of the struggling people of this great region before the minds and hearts of the Catholic faithful. Their homes, their industry and their hearts are broken.”