by Murray White
MORE than a third of Catholic dioceses in England and Wales are facing cash deficits or large loan repayments, a Catholic Herald survey found this week.
Following an announcement by Bishop David Konstant that his Leeds Diocese could be more than £2 million in the red by the end of next year, a number of dioceses across the country have expressed their concern over finances, and are taking steps to "tighten their belts".
Financial secretaries in a majority of the 22 dioceses put their finger on the escalating costs of schools as the reason for falling into debt or facing cutbacks. Some cited a drop in parish donations during the recession as a cause for concern. Bishop Konstant appealed to parishioners in a special sermon to consider doubling the amount they put in the collection plate. A forecast warns that Leeds' deficit could reach £8 million by 1996.
Churchgoers were told by the bishop that, for many of them, a £1 coin is 'just a tip".
This week, five other dioceses told the Catholic Herald they are also running at a deficit. Cardinal flume's Westminster Archdiocese is the deepest in the red, owing more than £5 million.
Portsmouth Diocese owed £215,000 at the end of 1990. Finance Secretary Edward Hogan said: "We are certainly very worried. A loss on this scale hinders pastoral progress."
Arundel and Brighton has undertaken drastic cuts in lay staff and spending levels. The diocese had a-deficit of £27,000 last year. Finance Secretary Fergus Brotherton said "we had a look over the abyss and pulled back". In an effort to control schools' spending, governors are being asked to find their own funding for development plans, he said.
Plymouth Diocese is also suffering "substantial deficits" on its schools, and Lancaster Diocese is worried it could face large debts in a few years' time.
Three dioceses, Southwark, Cardiff and Northampton, are committed to paying back large loans, but are in credit, Others. while not in debt, remain concerned. Parishes in Birmingham face a 25 per cent rise later this year in the levy paid to central diocesan funds.
Fr Thomas Mullheran, Financial Secretary in Salford, said: We are just about holding our heads above water. But there is no alternative to our commitment. This is not simply about schools. it is a primary commitment to the Gospel."
A number of dioceses have been successful in turning a negative balance around. In Westminster, improved financial management and a schools building fund have almost halved debts. Financial Secretary John Gihhs expressed gratitude for fund-raising efforts, but admitted "the recession and difficult property market have made it impossible to sell surplus land at the present time." Many dioceses came to the aid of Shrewsbury in 1989, offering interest-free loans to cover a £3 million debt. In Liverpool, officials have visited parishes to make Catholics aware of financial responsibilities. Mgr Michael McKenna, Liverpool's Episcopal Vicar for Finance, said it was wrong to reduce problems to a question of money: "The Church is not a Maxwell-like institution. Our commitment is about managing the faith."
The Catholic Herald spoke to Financial Secretaries in 21 out of the 22 dioceses in England and Wales. Two dioceses, Hallam and East Anglia, were not prepared to comment on their financial situation.
See leader, page 4