The Archdiocese of Chicago will begin offering 12 weeks of paid parental leave to its staff beginning on July 1. The new policy is open to fathers and mothers who just had children or adopted children. Staff who are eligible for benefits—those who work at least 26 hours a week—and who have worked at the archdiocese at least one month qualify for parental leave.
Under the previous policy, female staff who gave birth or adopted used paid sick time and vacation time during their parental leave. When Archbishop Blase J. Cupich came on board as Chicago’s new archbishop in the fall of 2014, 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,” Betsy Bohlen, the archdiocese’s chief operating officer, told The Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper. “The idea was to make sure that we have something that can work for all staff.”
The archdiocese is trying to be on the “leading edge” of family-friendly policies, Bohlen said.
The new policy is expected to cost up to $1 million a year and could be used by as many as 200 employees. “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 other U.S. dioceses offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave, said the Rev. Peter Wojcik, co-director of the archdiocese’s Department of Parish Life and Formation. He 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 last year in the gathering of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican, Father Wojcik said. The church shouldn’t just write about or talk about families but also must accompany them on their journey, said archdiocesan officials.
“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,” Father Wojcik 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, the priest added.