Head of Catholic Charities to step down

February 16, 2011

The president of the Catholic Church's local social service arm will step down after 20 years, the agency announced Tuesday, triggering a leadership change at one of the region's largest private providers of services to the homeless, mentally ill, immigrants and others.

Ed Orzechowski will retire next January as president and chief executive of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, which serves 100,000 people each year in the District and its Maryland suburbs. The charity runs 78 social service programs, including the majority of the District's homeless shelters, spokesman Erik Salmi said.

Orzechowski's long tenure was marked by a revival of interest in creating permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Last fall, Catholic Charitiesopened the 178-unit Summit at St. Martin's in Northeast Washington to provide low-income housing.

Orzechowski also oversaw a merger in 2004 that brought three other social service groups into Catholic Charities' fold, increasing its clientele from 60,000 people a year to more than 100,000.

Catholic Charities generated controversy more than a year ago as the D.C. Council was preparing to vote on a plan to legalize same-sex marriage. Orzechowski and then-Archbishop Donald Wuerl warned that the new law could threaten the organization's ability to partner with the city. They said that for the charity to extend spousal benefits to gays and lesbians would contradict Catholic teaching on marriage.

Once the law passed, Catholic Charities - one of the region's largest employers with 800 employees -modified its benefit package to end spousal benefits for all new hires.

The decision divided Catholics. Some felt the church could have made clear its lack of recognition of gay and lesbian families without severing benefits during a recession. Others empathized with Orzechowski and felt the D.C. Council had forced his hand.

Orzechowski was not available for an interview Tuesday, but Salmi said his boss was "ready to move on to the next step. He's turning 66 and wants to start the transition."

In a letter to staff and volunteers, Orzechowski said it was time for "the next generation of leadership to guide us through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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