Financial crisis hits the Catholic Church…

It’s not often I get to Mass in my home parish of Holywood, but I was there last Sunday. A number of things struck me. One is that attenders are mostly of the older demographic, with, by and large, my own 70s generation taking up the rear. And two, that the collections are proportionally not pulling in anything like they were thirty years ago.

Whilst I don’t imagine exactly same rules apply to Holywood as might say in inner city Belfast, or Dublin but as that generation heads for retirement, it is clear that much more is expected of much fewer clergy, critically on people who possess much fewer resources; both social and financial.

It’s worth listening to Michael Kelly of the Irish Catholic, who explains to UTV’s Paul Clarke just why the Dublin Archdiocese is nearing the bottom of the barrel:

Henry McDonald notes a cocktail of causes, and that one proposal in a paper leaked by Kelly’s paper is to levy a charge the dwindling bundle of faithful Mass-goers…

It cites the ongoing cost of compensation payments made to victims of clerical abuse, the death of the Celtic Tiger economic boom and falling numbers going to mass in the Irish capital.

The document, which was leaked to this week’s edition of the Irish Catholic newspaper, proposes imposing a parish-based levy on Catholic families living in Dublin that would raise up to €3m
(£2.6m) a year.

In the longer term however the truth is that the Church possesses assets and facilities that it no longer has the numbers to justify. Like the massive sell off of Anglican churches in England a whole generation or two ago the Church may be facing a down sizing the number of churches under its purview.

The trouble is that some of those big Dublin parish churches are bit like Dr Who’s Tardis modest on the outside, huge (and expensive to maintain) on the inside. They can’t be disposed of, without making the still substantial but much smaller numbers of parishioners homeless.

There is no doubt the child sex scandals have helped damage the Irish church, but I suspect it is part of a general though a much more urban malaise in the church. If Dublin runs out of cash it will be the rural dioceses that dig them out more than any direct levy, or the financial markets.

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  • Pete Baker

    Financial crisis? What financial crisis?

    The Vatican has announced its finances have returned to profit – after three consecutive years in the red.

    Its report said the Holy See saw revenues of 245.2m euros (£222m; $356m) against expenses of 235.3m in 2010.

    But annual donations from churches worldwide – known as Peter’s Pence – were down nearly $15m to $67.7[m].

    The separately administered Vatican City State also made a 21m-euro profit due to strong ticket sales at the Vatican Museums.

  • Greenflag

    The situation for the RC Church should be much worse than is being reported here . There is the now almost forgotten matter of Bertie’s bail out of the ‘bishops ‘ the eh 100 million euros of taxpayers money that was found to help meet the RC Church’s self inflicted clerical abuse scandal costs .

    ‘If Dublin runs out of cash it will be the rural dioceses that dig them out more than any direct levy, or the financial markets.’

    Not according to Mr Kelly in the above report who stated that dioceses are ‘independent ‘ financial entities and under no obligation to fund other dioceses for which he mentions the experience of some American dioceses .

    The Irish RC Church is following in the steps of the Anglican -the future will be one of much smaller congregations hanging on in rural areas and serviced by an increasing geriatric priesthood serving elderly congregations .

    Sic transit gloria mundi as the actress did’nt say to the bishop !

  • On Sunday & Monday of this week I attended three funerals (ie three in 26 hours) which may sound likea movie script where I am played by Hugh Grant.
    It did however give an insight into three very different churches with a different demographic and profile in each.

    The first, in the village in which I live was a massive affair.
    Although the funeral Mass was offered by a relative of the deceased, the key thing about the parish is that there are actually two churches, three miles apart.
    Now served by just one priest a man in his early 80s.
    Back in the early 1990s there were two priests. The older ma lived in this village. The younger man in the “other” village.
    Two Masses (Saturday and Sunday) in each Church. Now the Churches alternate. Saturday here, Sunday there or vice versa.
    The evidence of my eyes ……..I live about 200 metres from the Church was that (1990s) cars were parked well past our house…..actually increasing as the village got bigger……..then dwindling so that the cars didnt reach our house (the downturn in attendance) but now the cars park past our house again (a consequence of folks coming from our “sister” village).
    Demographic……certainly fewer younger faces. But in itself thats not important.
    The second church was a “new” 1970s parish, a spin off from an older parish in Belfast. Built circa 1971 with much expense it was effecctively rebuilt this century and visibly has downsized (there is another church in the parish). It might be described as one of Belfasts poorest parishes.
    The third funeral was in (traditionally) Belfasts most affluent parish. Clearly a different demographic of people. But ironically this Church (or rather Parish). was originally built for the domestic servants of South Belfast.

    My late father used to take a morbid interest in Church collections mainly because of he was one of “the old decency” of pioneer men “who took up the plate”. Armed with the Down & Connor Directory he knew parish populations.

    As with everything, it is often difficult to disentangle “reasons” from “excuses” and thats the case with falling numbers and falling collections. Too easy to blame both entirely on scandals.
    In terms of falling numbers, I discussed this with two priests in March (Slugger passim) one who is 50plus, the other about 30.
    I pointed out that the “legal” definition of a Catholic is a person who makes his/her Easter Duty…..the younger guy was unaware of this and the older guy remembered vaguely that there was “something like that” in the old days.
    Effectively the Catholic Church has re-defined a “Catholic”. Needs must when the Devil drives is an inappropriate phrase perhaps……..but certainly no priest is going to scold parishioners who attend monthly as they would have scolded 40 years ago.
    Indeed anyone attending (increasingly expensive for parents) First Communions will note in the weeks after, the burden of actually bringing eight year olds to Sunday Mass falls on…..grandparents rather than parents.
    And indeed the middle aged Catholic is the unhappiest of all. Brought up to believe Right from Wrong, the World has changed in his/her lifetime.
    Elderly parents have certainties.
    Children have different certainties.
    The middle-aged have no certainty other than a foot in both worlds.
    But the Catholic Church has re-defined Catholicism.
    You might move into a new parish and phone for advice on what time is “Sunday Mass?” and you might almost geta reply “what time can you get here?”
    But the four wheeled Catholic……..a pram to Baptism, a limo to a wedding and a hearse to a funeral was once despised by the (clerical) Church.
    Now it appears to be acceptable.
    It will do.
    The key thing is that apart from trendy liberals, children are still getting baptised, still making First Communion……..and being facilitated from “integrated” schools in a way that Bishop Philbin would not have countenaced in 1970s Holywood of all places.
    And despite hype to the contrary, integrated education is o real “threat”, especially in a community where people care more about a “nationalist” ethos rather than a “Catholic” ethos.
    Catholic schools provide both.
    The Collection argument is slightly different. Monthly and Yearly attenders dont actually contribute much. Thats obvious. But “supporting the upkeep of our pastors” as it was known was always a bit “iffy”.
    The traditional reading of yearly offerings in rural parishes (long stopped) is a thing of legend.
    Farmers accepting their role as “£5 donors” to get one up on their neighbours in the “£4 list” and looking down on the ten shilling donors.
    “Ten shillings Paddy?…….I heard that the smuggling was good last week” can be effective from a South Armagh pulpit.
    But in fact I know plenty of people who would happily not contribute.
    “Two shillings a week for the Catholic school……..why should I? I have no kids and the family next door gets away with paying one shilling and they have three kids there”.
    It was always thus.
    But it seems unfair that the burden of Church upkeep (including compensation payments to sex abuse victims) is falling disproportionately on blameless people in the pews and very understandable that they dont like it, while the Church sits on valuable portfolios.
    My impression is that there is a stand-off. The Church needs the cash. And the congregations aided and abetted by reformist clergy are holding out for more accountability in parishes and dioceses. And Money is the trump card.
    Its not just abusing bas****s who have been drummed out of the Church. Several were money grabbing bas****s. There is a certain kinda priests now identifying themselves more overtly with the folks in the pews and “you need it more than I do” goes a long way.

    Its a long game.

  • oracle

    Wow censorship

    I’m not allowed to air the viewpoint on Slugger that religion is fact less superstition that has no place in an intelligent or progressive society.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Last week a relative of my husband recounted how a very successful friend would give money to the parish priest “back home” in Galway, to help out families wan attest to his who were struggling.

    I immediately wondered how many families were helped out and whether the friend actually asked where the money had gone.

    My parents and grandmother all paid individual envelopes, and we too were presented with individual contribution envelopes when we started full time employment.

    So there were 6 envelopes coming in from one household, and in our house the fact that we had been given it meant it had to be filled (It was checked).

    After I married and moved Diocese, the envelopes duly arrived in my husbands sole name. Problem being is that he isn’t a Catholic, and since my name wasn’t on the envelope, using the logic above meant I didn’t have to contribute ;-D

  • Mick Fealty

    That was not an argument Oracle. It was a rant. Read this:

  • oracle

    I think a rant is normally much longer than 30 words Mick

  • Drumlins Rock

    Oracle, I have no problem subscribing to a religion that is fact, less superstition. But it is taking the thread completely of course.

    Mick, firstly summer attendances can drop considerably, it has almost halfed in my own church, so check it out agian in the Autumn, it would also be interesting to see how collections have changed in Protestant Churches, can maybe tell you how much is recession how much depression, In my church I believe the collection was marginally down last year, will check the accounts, it was also the first year we didn’t publish the names so maybe that could have affected some, do you get any accounts in your church?

    here are the PCI figures, it actually shows a 0.7% rise in general giving but drops in other areas, abuot what can be expected in the circumstances.

  • oracle


    I was not intentionally designing my views to change the direction of the thread.
    I did air my pleasure at hearing the news in the thread of possible financial problems for the Catholic Church, and problems that I personally hope intensify.
    I thought it was fair comment and belonged on the thread because what other thread would it belong on?

  • I blame it on the nineteenth-century architects.

    They proposed these over-ornamented fanes, all of which nod to the like of Notre Dame or Chartres. They were then run up in sandstone, rather than harder material. By now bits are falling off — and they don’t convert well into carpet showrooms.

    The theology didn’t keep up too well, either.

  • A good rhetorical point has been made by Mr Redfellow.
    I cant think of any Catholic Churches in the Greater Belfast area which are now “furniture warehouses”. Perhaps he could refresh my memory by naming some.

  • Pigeon Toes

    D R

    “also the first year we didn’t publish the names” . Catching up with Data protection issues, which presumably would be seen as “sensitive” material.

    Always had a problem with that… Does one get a greater pastoral service the more one pays?

    I was quite shocked that my mother-in-law’s in Cookstown was still publishing this in 2001-2003 (?)

  • Pigeon Toes


    Six years ago we had to” dig up” my Father-in law’s ashes.
    (the only man I know to have 4 funeral services)

    The church was for sale and since my mother-in-law had recently died, it was decided to bury them together in Ireland….

    Drove past the church last week. Still for sale.

    I was always taught that a church is just a building, but we forget what it means to communities and our own personal histories…

  • I can appreciate the trauma of that Pigeon Toes.
    And Im not joking or being facetious when I say that I would love to be able to arrange for my parents to be moved to another graveyard.
    Bad memories of that village and even visiting the grave (my mother will be eight years dead tomorrow) is painful. I avoid “Cemetry Sunday” for that reason.
    But I think there is a realisation that a persecuted Church is actually closer to God than an arrogant Church on a pedestal.

    I think most Catholics can name a priest or indeed several who have caused them pain or annoyance. And if honest most Catholics would acknowledge that they have occasion to be grateful fora favour done for a loved one at a vulnerable time.
    Cap’n Boyle probably puts it better than I do in his two references to priests in “Juno and the Paycock” (Seán O’Casey).
    Indeed I daresay that at the three funerals I mentioned in my earlier piece many of the three congregations who (happily?) attended the funerals would probably agree.

    Specifically on Finance, it is a problem. When my mother died aged 90 after some years in a nursing home, the Undertaker informed me that there was a problem with the Parish Priest and the use of the local Church. and I had to go and see him. He couldnt remember “that woman”.
    I reminded him that until she went into the Home, she gave him a tenner every month. He remembered and was extremely “helpful” when he discovered that my cousin who said the Mass was a fairly senior Priest.
    Like I say that priest did my family a bad turn at a vulnerable time and I wont forget it.
    But 18 months later my granddaughter died in infancy. And the (different young) priest in my sons Parish could not have been more decent. And took no “donation” whatsoever.
    Like I say that priest did my family a good turn at a vulnerable time and its only fair that I dont forget that either.

  • Be sensible, fitzjameshorse1745 @ 8:58 pm!

    Even Westminster Abbey was once employed as a stable.

    We live in the era of recycling.

    Most ex-Presbyterian stuff recycles quite nicely into decent bourgeois housing (or — when it comes on the grandiose scale — as bijou apartments). The Anglican cast-offs make a decent country pad, provided you can tolerate the planted ex-neighbours. Other worthy de-consecrated premises (across the rest of GB) happily transcend barriers and grow an inappropriate minaret.

    My reference invited you to recall fine structures, such as the Greenville Hall Synagogue, on Annesley Street, largely financed by Sir Otto Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast.

    Do assure me that Belfast is still proud of Chaim Herzog, destined to become president of the state of Israel. And, remarkably, living nearby was another youngster, born Aubrey Solomon Meir, better known to the world as Abba Eban.

  • Err … I think an /b was misplaced there.


  • Drumlins Rock

    fascinating story there Malcolm, knew of Chaim but not Aba.
    Compared to elsewhere NI has relatively few redundant or reused churches, hence it is still an emotive issue. Before closing churches however the RC church probably needs to get rid of much of the top end, ie. at least half the dioceses and bishops, and here is a suggestion that might work, do a deal to sign over some property (on top of the abuse compensation this is) schools, nursing homes etc. to the state in exchange for taking care of some of the more elderly clergy. I wonder are any more Caravaggios sitting in the attic anywhere?

    PT. we always had one member who had requested for his contribution to be listed as anonymous…. 🙂

  • Drumlins Rock

    As for church architecture, I’m not a big fan of J J McCarthy, some nice details but generally a bit bland, Thomas Duff was much more adventerous, and the granite used in Newry will outlast most of the modern ones!

  • CockyMacDickie

    Could it be people are just more cynical regarding “giving” these days. It seems every where you go you are hunted by charity workers. Charities have exploded in modern times and a lot of people myself included know that many of them are nothing more than a scam. Are churches are now suffering as a result of this “stigma”?

  • Mark

    My younger brother died in a car crash ten years ago . The day after the accident the family home was obviously very busy with relatives , friend etc offering their condolences . The hall door bell rang and I opened it to find a stranger ( to me at least ) who introduced himself as the local priest . My Mum appeared and welcomed him and he said how sorry he was about my brother . I had never met him so when he asked me if i was close to my brother I lost it . I have never torn strips off someone like I did to that man . All the emotion just came flooding out and i asked him what kinda stupid fuc?in question that was etc . He just stood there nodding at me and accepting everything I said . He came back to the house everyday for weeks after we buried my brother . He didnt have to and I certainly wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around at the time . The church has taken a battering ( and rightly so ) in recent times but there are still some good decent priests out there and sometimes we forget that .

  • Greenflag

    mark ,

    ‘but there are still some good decent priests out there and sometimes we forget that .’

    Some ? I would suggest more than some -many or most in fact . The main issues confronting the RC Church are

    1) Rapidly declining and now mostly elderly congregations .
    2) It’s non democratic male only church administrative hierarchy .
    3) The Omerta Code – or whatever you say say nothing about you know what -the clerical as opposed to the secular form of this socio politico phenomenon as it exists in Ireland.

    4)The failure of the Church to keep pace with this instant information world and the consequences such is going to have on an organisation that pretends to have the sole/soul truth on man’s nature.

    They are going and not coming back -certainly not as the major force they once were in Irish society ..

  • Drumlins Rock

    Can I ask something, do the good priest get promoted or how do the top jobs get shared out?

  • A good rhetorical point has been made by Mr Redfellow.
    I cant think of any Catholic Churches in the Greater Belfast area which are now “furniture warehouses”. Perhaps he could refresh my memory by naming some.
    …. fitzjameshorse1745 18 August 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Here’s novel good community use of a presbyterian church and definitely not a waste of space as a furniture warehouse …..

    That’s one thing you can always rely on the Chinese for …… being light years ahead of curve and not being afraid of doing something/anything different.

  • JR

    I got married last year and the following day went to the priest with £300. He wouldn’t accept it, told me that a young married couple needed the money more.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I seem to remember the Watermargin being a carpet showroom at one stage! Restaurants are quite a good use although many will have covenants in the deeds preventing alcohol sales on the premises.

    Back to the main point however, John Dallat MLA, has come up with the real solution to the churches problems, make the Feast of the Asumption on the 15th of August a public Holiday, (even I had to google it to check what it meant), he says “For the North this would be a real challenge to move on, celebrate what we have in common”, can someone tell him that a belief in the asumption is not something that the “two communities” share, in fact I might stick my neck out and say the reverse is more likely to be true. Maybe there is a desire in the Catholic community to make it a holiday, but John, please don’t dress it up as cross-community!

    here is the article from the Derry Journal-

  • The article should have mentioned that 15th August is the big marching day for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and I wonder if John Dallat was speaking to or about them.
    As I understand it, some SDLP councillors are “Hibs”, including in that part of the River Bann.

  • bailey115

    Just two points:
    1. The blog article states: “If Dublin runs out of cash it will be the rural dioceses that dig them out more than any direct levy, or the financial markets.” Catholic dioceses are independent entities in terms of things like finance, so if one runs out of money there’s no obligation on others to bail them out. Several dioceses in the US went bankrupt in the past number of years without being bailed out by any neighbouring dioceses.

    2. The comment from Greenflag: “There is the now almost forgotten matter of Bertie’s bail out of the ‘bishops ‘ the eh 100 million euros of taxpayers money that was found to help meet the RC Church’s self inflicted clerical abuse scandal costs.” The deal mentioned was between the government and the religious orders. The dioceses of Ireland, and therefore the bishops of Ireland, were not party to it and received no money from the state.

  • Drumlins Rock

    bailey, what would be the consequences of Dublin Diocese going bankrupt, how much of the property, staff, clergy, pension liability etc. would rest on its books, are the parishes separately “owned”, could a new Diocese then be created, probably covering a greater area eventually, and carry on as usual, only with less assets?

  • bailey115

    Drumlins Rock – to be honest I’m not entirely sure how the Dublin Diocese is structured as it differs from diocese to diocese. Parishes are separate in terms of finances and property ownership from the diocese, and are protected as such under canon law. So if, for example, the diocese was on the verge of going bankrupt, the bishop couldn’t order a parish to sell a piece of property and give it to the diocese. The asset belongs to the parish, and so it’s sale would benefit the parish not the diocese.

    The diocese will have assets of its own – property, investments, pension/welfare funds for retired/sick clergy. I assume that Dublin be a large diocese will have more property in the name of the diocese – places like Clonliffe for example – which could be disposed of to meet the demands of creditors.

    Dublin will also have a reasonably large lay staff (compared to other Irish dioceses at least). I’m not sure how Dublin pays its clergy, as again this differs from diocese to diocese. There’s generally only two methods. The first is that clergy are paid directly from parish funds. The second is that funds are raised from collections in the parishes and sent in to the diocese, which creates a salary fund and priests are then paid from that. I’m not sure which system operates in Dublin. If its the latter then technically I guess clergy would be on their books, if it’s the former then clergy wouldn’t.

    Under normal circumstances I’d say that creating a new diocese wouldn’t happen. However, there is already talk of reducing the number of dioceses in Ireland, so if this were to happen new dioceses would effectively be created. I don’t think that it would solve the finance issue though as the suggestion seems to be that Dublin would be the only diocese to be reduced in size rather than enlarged, which wouldn’t help in terms of finances.