There is an old Oxford joke which goes: there were two professors walking past Christ Church and they saw the billboard outside announcing forthcoming sermons. One announcement read 'Prayer, does it work?' and one old professor turned to the other and said 'You'd have thought they would have considered that before erecting so costly an edifice.'
In terms of this world the Church is non-productive — one of the interesting debates recently has been whether contemplative monasteries count as charities for tax purposes — yet some of its buildings are among the most expensive to maintain and are situated on prime building land in our cities.
Independent schools can raise enough money to run, and Catholic ones save thousands of pounds a year because they don't have to pay salaries to their religious teachers, but they are unable to compete with state schools in terms of facilities and new plant without launching special appeals for money.
One of the major appeal organisers who have helped numerous Catholic institutions raise money in the last 20 years is Craigmile and Company.
Mr James Bell, managing director of the company, reckons that they have raised some £120 million for over 600 charities in that period and that the charity business is booming. The company offers advice on money raising for charitable projects. The arrangmenet, fee and strategy is different in every case but the company does not take a percentage of funds raised.
If a project runs out half way or the organisers of the appeal change their minds there are clauses in the agreement which protect the client. In recent years they have handled the appeals for Westminster Cathedral and Farm Street and they act as consultants for the Downside appeal but as Lord Craigmile, the founder says "in a sense there is a permanent appeal for all Catholic institutions — take for example the National Shrine at Walsingham."
The age of enormous building programmes for the Catholic church in this country is now over. It blossomed when interest rates were low and the possibilities of build now, pay later seemed endless. Liverpool Cathedral, for example, which cost £4 million has an outstanding debt of some £850,000 but it is on a long term loan from the Royal Insurance Company at a low rate of interest. At present most of the appeals are either for paying off debts quickly, as in the case of the Westminster Arch diocese appeal or to maintain the fabric of ageing churches as is the case at Norwich Cathedral. Here, the lead roof needed redoing and a considerable amount of the Devon stone, weathering badly in the Norfolk climate, is softening and needs to be replaced. In 1978 the Cathedral launched an appeal for £600,000. So far they have spent £143,745. The Cathedral and its parish have raised some £50,000, the diocese £71,000 and the national appeal £24,000. Three of the seven stages of repair have now been completed but it is thought that they may have to call a halt after the fourth unless more money comes in. Canon Edward McBride says that considering the diocese is the smallest and newest in the country, and the best he adds, the appeal is going extremely well.
Westminster Cathedral is home and dry having reached its £1 million in two years, but the administrators are keeping the appeal open and have now raised another £20,000. The repairs to the structure have been completed and the money now ciming in from the Friends of the Cathedral is to be used to provide the Cathedral with a regular income. Another appeal which overshot its target was the St Edmund's Ware appeal for £150,000. The college was given that in 10 weeks last year so they are now going for £200,000.
Most of these big appeals raise money by appealing for covenants which spread out the giving over seven years so that the charity can recover the income tax. This means that on a hundred pounds given they can recoup a further £51.52.
Companies too often have a charity which avoids corporation
tax and Westminster Cathedral raised more than half its £1 million from large companies, organisations or charities.
At the bottom of the appeal league come people like the White Sisters who have a few friends in this country but no real constituency which they can ask for money. Most of their work is done overseas. They need £12,000 for structural repairs to their house in West London but will have to beg this off central funds.
Ampleforth and Arundel Cathedral have completed their appeals successfully and the Tablet has just launched one for £150,000, the only appeal apart from Westminster Archdiocese which is not for bricks and mortar. Worth Abbey and Farm Street, appealing for £500,000 and £200,000 resepectively have reached half way. Douia also has an appeal running at the moment and so has Downside.
Comparisons are odious and impossible but when dealing with hundreds of thousands of pounds, something most of us are not used to, one needs a context or parallel. From 1963 to 1972, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development sent £1,367,948.22 to various projects in the Third World. Is anyone else keeping count of what we spend on ourselves, be it in the form of churches and schools and what we give to the poor?
Apart from the National Catholic Fund there is no central financial organisation in this country for the Church. Perhaps the National Pastoral Congress could put a review of Catholic finance and charity on their agenda next year.