by Alex Cosgrave
Parishes in the Westminster archdiocese will not be asked to give more to central funds this year despite the fact that the diocese is still struggling with a L6+ million debt.
Some parishes have had difficulty in meeting the increased financial demands that were made on them last year and two thirds of the parishes had their assesments lowered during 1978.
Mgr Ralph Brown, Westminster's vicar general in charge of' finance, said that the diocese had known that adjustments in the assessments would have to be made because the figures were based on estimates of the number of wage earners in each parish and such statistics were bound to be unreliable at first.
Money from the parishes was slow to come in last year and by the end of September only 54 per cent or the assessments had been paid. More than 80 per cent of the money has now reached central funds but because of the adjustments the diocese will only have raised the minimum amount of money it needs to function instead of the increased sum it hoped to be able to use to begin to expand its pastoral care.
The bishops now feel that because the parishes have made such a great effort to increase their giving they should not be asked for more in 1979. Increases in 1980 are, however, almost inevitable.
The standstill in parish assess ments, despite the loss of revenue this implies to the diocese if infla tion continues to rise is possible because of the re-organisation of
the diocese central funds and the introduction of new financial schemes.
Centralised banking. where all parishes pay into the same branch of a bank, will save the diocese £72,000 this year and also bring financial benefits to parishes in debt.
The reorganisation of the diocese's £700,000 investment portfolio will increase diocesan income and Westminster also hopes to raise £153,000 in 1979 from the sale of three surplus sites originally earmarked for new schools at Yeading, Brentford and Hanwell.
Re-financing loans which were originally taken out with the Department of Education and Science at high fixed rates of interest will save the diocese money as will the reorganisation of the finance office.
In September Westminster will join with 15 other dioceses in a nationally organised insurance scheme which will save parishes in the diocese up to £40,000 in the first year of operation.
In 1977 the Westminster bishops decided that the diocese would no longer budget for a deficit but would aim to break even and if possible begin to accumulate a surplus of pay off its capital debt.
While in 1976 the diocese had an annual deficit of £1 million this year's budget plans for an optimistic £8,000 surplus. According to Mgr Brown the three years 1978 to 1980 are a time of reorganisation, reducing the annual deficit and as he put it this week "keeping the boat afloat without taking on too much water".
By 1981 he hopes the diocese will be able to begin to make inroads on the vast amounts of interest it pays on loans and thereafter to have the money to expand its pastoral care which the bishops see as a priority.
According to the 1979 budget which is now available in every parish the diocese will have an income of £1,531,000 in the coming year made up of money from parishes, the sale of school sites, donations and investment earnings.
Westminster hopes to spend only £1,523,000. Of this £441,000 will go on interest charges, 1153,000 on loan repayments £214,000 on administration and £284,000 on grants for diocesan pastoral services which include the various chaplaincies for ethnic groups and students and running the diocesan pastoral centre at London Colney.
As in the past the largest outlay £431,000 will be on school building and maintenance.
• On February 11 the Cardinal will announce plans to raise money for a new clergy retirement fund for the diocese. It is estimated that it will cost £50,000 a year to run the fund which will provide every retired priest over the age of 70 with £1,100 a year in addition to any state pension he may receive. A pension scheme for lay workers and priests housekeepers is being discussed.