CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Archdiocese is closing five schools and eliminating 75 central office staff positions in an effort to save millions of dollars over the next two years and help close a $40 million operating deficit.

Francis Cardinal George, in a column published in Catholic New World, said the decision on the five schools was “very carefully made” or the “past several months.”

Of the five schools, three are in Chicago, St. Gregory’s High School, 1677 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., and St. Helena’s Of The Cross Elementary, 10115 S. Parnell Ave., and St. Paul Elementary, 2114 W. 22nd Pl. Two are in the suburbs, St. Bernardine Elementary School, 815 Elgin Ave., in Forest Park and St. Kieran, 700 W. 195th St., in Chicago Heights.

In addition, a total of 75 staff positions have been eliminated, including 55 full-time jobs. Included in that number were 15 open positions that were not filled. The reductions represent a 14 percent cut in Pastoral Center office staff, George said.

Those cuts are expected to save $11 million to $13 million by 2015. Of the $89 million in expenses incurred last year, approximately “$47 million went to support the ministerial and administrative services of the Pastoral Center offices,” George said.

George said the church also plans to consolidate several agencies, reducing that number from 16 to 9.

For example, George said, ministries that implement Catholic social teaching, including Respect Life, Immigration, Peace & Justice and Kolbe House Jail Ministry, will become the Office of Human Solidarity and Dignity.

George also said the archdiocese will scale back grants made to parishes for capital projects. Those restrictions are expected to save about $13 to $15 million over the next two years.

“Like so many other families and institutions, the Archdiocese of Chicago has suffered during the economic downturn of these past few years,” George said. “The Archdiocese remains a financially secure institution with a strong asset base.

However, the cardinal noted, “We cannot continue to work as if the effects of the recession were not being felt.”

Toni Gurgone, whose grandchildren attend Catholic school, was not surprised by the archdiocese’s financial difficulty.

“Hard not to believe it. with the conditions the way they are. Maybe people are giving less when they go to Mass,” said Gurgone.

Fr. Maurizio Binaghi is the Pastor at St. Helena’s, one of the schools slated to close.

“It is a painful moment for me as a pastor, for the community, for the church for the parish for the families of the children,” he said.

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