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May 15 - 28, 2016

Archdiocese announces new parental leave policy Staff will now receive 12 weeks of paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child

By Joyce Duriga

Editor

The Archdiocese of Chicago will begin offering 12 weeks of paid parental leave to its staff beginning July 1.

The new policy is open to fathers and mothers who just had children or adopted children. Staff who are benefits-eligible (those who work at least 26 hours a week) and who have worked at the archdiocese at least one month qualify for parental leave. Archdiocesan employees who have worked less than one year will receive one week paid parental leave for every month they worked.

Under the previous policy, female staff who gave birth or adopted used sick time and vacation time for pay during their parental leave. Employees who worked for at least three years usually had accumulated enough sick time to cover about six weeks of leave.

“We’ve had a policy that met the needs of most people,” said Betsy Bohlen, chief operating officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “For most people it worked, because they accrued sick time and used it. In other organizations they would have lost it. Here they keep it.”

There were some instances when it didn’t work for everyone, such as in the case of newer employees, she said, or someone who had to use their sick time for other health reasons.

When Archbishop Cupich came on board he wanted to ensure that the personnel policies were in line with church teaching.

“Obviously we do want to be a voice for pro-life, family friendly kinds of policies,” Bohlen said. “The idea was to make sure that we have something that can work for all staff.”

Under the new policy, fathers can also take paid parental leave. The prior policy was generous on time off, allowing up to six-month leave, but did not provide pay during the leave.

Including fathers under the new policy grew out of discussion from the human resources committee of the archdiocesan finance council about what it means to be church today in a world that is increasingly less family-friendly.

That committee made recommendations to the finance council, which were then approved and sent to Archbishop Cupich for review. He approved the new parental leave policy.

The archdiocese is trying to be on the “leading edge” of family friendly policies, Bohlen said.

The new policy is expected to cost the archdiocese up to $1 million a year and could be used by as many as 200 employees, including fathers.

“The other reason to do this is that we want to be able to attract strong talent and we think this is an attractive feature,” she said.

Bohlen is a mother of two children and said she can appreciate the changes as a parent.

“I do think the time soon after birth or adoption is a very important time for young families. The church can be viewed as a very attractive place to work if we’re seen to be more family-friendly than other organizations might be.”

Few dioceses offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave, said Father Peter Wojcik, co-director of the archdiocese’s Department of Parish Life and Formation.

Wojcik quoted Pope Francis’ recently released apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” in explaining why the archdiocese changed its policy.

Pope Francis writes: “At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

Archbishop Cupich is especially sensitive to family issues after participating in last year’s Synod on the Family at the Vatican, Wojcik said

The church shouldn’t just write about or talk about families but must also accompany them on their journey.

“It’s hard to have a relationship as a family if you have to go back to work right after having a small child. Or if as a father you cannot be part of this because you can’t afford to take unpaid leave and don’t have a lot of time off,” he said. “I think it’s a practical way of saying yes, the families are at the center of the church, the church is built on the families and families need time to be with each other and accompany each other.”

Through time together, families become stronger and ultimately the church becomes stronger, Wojcik said.