By Alex Cosgrave and Richard Dowden WESTMINSTER diocese is believed to be more than £6 million in debt, and Cardinal Hume has this week set in motion a widespread consultation among priests and parishioners to discover ways of coping with what he has described as an "appalling financial situation."
Accordin? to figures released this week, the diocese will have to pay £300,000 in interest on loans this year. Although no official figures for Westminster's debt have been announced, the amount of interest indicates that the debt is in the region of £6 million.
To clear such a debt would require an immediate contribution of £10 from every Catholic man, woman and child in the diocese.
In a letter to every Westminster priest, Cardinal Hume outlined the causes of the present financial crisis as an extensive programme of school building begun in the 1960s, and the deterioration of the national economy with rapidly rising infl ation and intolerably mounting interest rates.
Unfortunately there had been no adequate corresponding increase in the income, said the Cardinal.
"Thus, while the overall deficit has been growing by leaps and bounds, the school fund contribution has not been keeping up to any commensurate extent and there is hardly any other outside income to fund the necessary projects for which the diocese as a whole feels responsible." Cardinal Hume stressed that the present financial situation could not be allowed to continue, that it was not "good housekeeping" to continue to borrow from the banks, and that in any case the diocese had almost reached the limit of its borrowing capacity with the banks.
The emergency situation required urgent remedies, but these must not jeopardise future pastoral work, said the Cardinal, "We must have a great and rapid increase in the income from the diocese on the one hand, and on the other a sharp cutting back of expenditure, at least for the time being, even on already approved projectr." Despite the gloomy financial prospects Cardinal Hume said that there was much to be gain ed if parishioners and priests could come together to discuss the problem in the spirit of members of a family gathering together to help the family. "If we can make this serious position the occasion of us all drawing closer together and learning more about the iinplications of being members of our local church, then much good will come out of what is otherwise a crisis situation," he said The Cardinal has already set up two bodies to look into the
situation. A special working party of priests and laymen has been invited to suggest ways of
dealing with the immediate problem in the light of responses from priests and parishioners. Some of the measures under consideration are centralised banking, a unit loan scheme, and the increase of parish income through a free planned giving scheme and covenants.
For the long term, the Cardinal has established a financial
advisory group of leading lay people with financial expertise to provide advice on financial policy and a strict control on spending. The development of a pastoral strategy in the near future will establish priorities to which the financial policy will be strictly tied.
The Cardinal has emphasised that widespread consultation is
needed to develop such a strategy, and that this will inevitably take time. The division of the diocese into five pastoral areas, each with its own bishop would, he hoped, help the process of consultation.
Vatican ties with Congo Republic
The Vatican and the People's Republic of the Congo have established full diplomatic relations, The former West African French colony is the 32nd nation to set up ties with the Vatican since Pope Paul was elected in 1963. Eighteen of the 32 are African counties.
About half of the Congo's million people are Catholics. The country has three dioceses, 36 native priests and 114 missionary priests.