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Buffalo Diocese to end Daybreak TV operation, lay off 8 employees

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is pulling the plug on its award-winning Daybreak TV Productions.

The diocese announced on its website Friday that eight Daybreak TV employees will be laid off in July as part of an effort to cut costs. The diocese also will shut down a campus ministry program at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Daybreak TV developed a national reputation for its audio-visual projects and programming, regularly winning awards for the quality of its documentaries and television shows. Among its productions were "Proving Holiness," a one-hour documentary narrated by Martin Sheen, that won numerous national and international awards for its exploration of the Catholic canonization process, and "Our Daily Bread," a popular half-hour cooking and spirituality show hosted by the Rev. Paul D. Seil.

The diocese's website posting about the cuts read in part:

"For various reasons parish income in recent years has been declining, and this has impacted the budget of the Central Administrative Offices of the Diocese of Buffalo.  Thus, the Diocese has been forced to make some hard financial decisions."

"For many years, Daybreak has provided programming to help share the Good News. The diocese has been blessed to provide programming that most other dioceses in the nation could not provide. The Daybreak team members should be commended for how much their excellent work has been valued on a national level."

Diocesan spokesman George Richert declined to comment further about the changes.

The cuts come as the diocese prepares to settle what could amount to millions of dollars in claims by childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Bishop Richard J. Malone in March launched the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, inviting victims of sex abuse to apply for monetary awards to be determined by two former judges. In exchange for the voluntary compensation, the victims will agree to give up their rights to sue the diocese over the abuse.

Malone has maintained that insurance coverage, investment reserves and the sale of diocesan properties will cover the costs of the compensation program, but he has declined to spell out what the total costs will be. A similar program in the Archdiocese of New York resulted in 189 victims receiving more than $40 million – an average of $211,640 per victim.

In 2017, the diocese received $6,167,225 in so-called general assessment income – the collective amount of "taxes" on the 161 parishes of the diocese. It was a decline of about4 percent from the previous year.

Daybreak TV Productions cost the diocese $446,124 in 2017, according to its annual financial report.

Each year, in addition to the parish assessments it receives, the diocese takes a portion of funds – about $35 out of every $100 raised - from the Catholic Charities Appeal and uses them for its own operations. The fund, called the Bishop's Fund for the Faith, received nearly $4 million in 2017 in Catholic Charities gifts.

Diocesan officials have said that Daybreak TV is one of the ministries for which the Bishop's Fund money is earmarked annually.

It's not clear how much cutting the Fredonia Newman Center will save the diocese.

The latest diocesan financial report showed that the diocese spent $485,469 on campus ministry in 2017. But that number includes campus ministry programs at several other area colleges and universities, including Newman Centers at SUNY Buffalo State and at the University at Buffalo.

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