Page 10, 3rd July 1992

3rd July 1992
Page 10
Page 10, 3rd July 1992 — Filling pews and plates

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Hexham, Leeds, Newcastle


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Filling pews and plates

Christopher Monckton ACCORDING to the Yorkshire Post, where ace cub reporter "Scoop" Monckton cut his journalistic teeth. the Diocese of Leeds is £2 million in the red and Bishop Konstant distributed leaflets last weekend to the 175,000 Catholics in the diocese to tell them of his plight.

Why this sudden poverty amid plenty? Leeds Diocese covers one of the best-heeled, most-RollsRoyced corners of England. It ought to be well able to pay the gas bill. What has gone wrong?

Yorkshire folk, of course, are notorious tightwads. There is the old story of the meeting in Leeds Town Hall when a silver collection was announced. Two Aberdonians fainted and 16 Yorkshiremen carried them out.

More to the point, the bishop reckons that the average contribution to the collection plate is a mere £1. You can't even buy a decent ferret for that. But one suspects there is more to it than the inbred defect which keeps your typical Yorkshireman's arms just an inch or two short of his pockets.

For starters, congregations are about half what they were 30 years ago. But the number of churches, schools, parish halls and diocesan offices has not fallen by anything like the same amount. So the bishop's first task, in Archbishop Carey's earthy words, is to get bums on all those seats. And that probably means going back to a more vigorous, old-fashioned and self-confident presentation of Catholicism than that which Bishop Konstant tends to favour.

If the bishop cannot recruit or keep enough bums to fill the seats. then he'll have to sell some Church property. But if he chooses that route. he'd better do it carefully. Some years ago, before his time, Leeds Diocese dropped a classic clanger when it sold its pastoral centre at Wood Hall. near Wetherby.

Wood Hall is an elegant. Georgian country house set in its own parkland on a hillside overlooking the River Warfe near Wetherby. The Church sold the estate, which included half a dozen cottages, for £500,000. The diocesan officials who handled the sale were repeatedly warned that it would be better to sell the property in lots rather than as a whole. They took no notice.

The purchaser immediately recouped his half million by selling off the cottages. So he got the house and all its parkland for nothing, and the Diocese was a good half-million poorer than it would have been if it had been willing to take advice.

Shared interest

CHURCHMEN really ought to leave matters of finance to the laity. For instance, what commercial organisation would allow one of its divisions to be £2 million in debt, paying around £300,000 in interest alone, when another division was £2 million in surplus. collecting £200,000 a year in interest?

Anyone in the business world knows that banks charge their borrowers a higher rate of interest than they pay their depositors. Now, the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle was sitting on investments of at least £1.5 million when I last saw the figures some years back. If the two dioceses were to pool their resources until Leeds had got out of its difficulties, the banks would be around £100,000 a year poorer and the Church would be richer by the same amount. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Our bishops, when struggling to make ends meet, must look longingly at Germany from time to time. There, registered churchgoers have to pay a whopping Church tax which keeps the German bishops in beer and sausages and, come to that, palaces.

In the days of the Cold War, when the Irish Guards were stationed in the cathedral tower of Munster, they used to collect up all their champagne bottles after a regimental bash, load them in the back of a Land Rover and then, at dead of night, stack them neatly outside the back door of the bishop's palace. The saintly bishop never did discover why he had such a reputation among his flock for riotous living.

Praise the Lord!

SO MORRIS Cerullo is to set up a Satellite Evangelisation Station to broadcast the Good News down from the Heavens to li'l ol' England.. Praise the Lord! But why isn't the Catholic Church doing the same thing?

In the bad days before Margaret Thatcher set things free. the Broadcasting Acts prohibited religious organisations from owning or running radio or TV stations. Everyone else, however wicked, was allowed on the air, but religious broadcasting was confined to the God slot on Sunday afternoons.

Now the restriction has been removed. Religious organisations are permitted to own or run satellite or cable stations. So far, there have been three applications to do just that. One is from Mr Cerullo. Another, also for a satellite station, is from Ahmadiyya Muslim Presentation, an organisation dating from 1891, which is to broadcast its leader's Friday sermons live into our homes. The third application, for a cable service, is from Vision Broadcasting, which has been quietly putting out programmes with a religious content since 1987.

But where is the Catholic Church? As soon as Marconi invented radio, the Holy See set up Vatican Radio, which has become low-tech by modern standards but was once state of the art.

1 was much amused, when broadcasting to the universe on Vatican Radio a few years ago, to discover that the "ding-dungdang" tones which preceded the news were produced not by some sophisticated radiophonic gizmo but by a three-note xylophone on the newsreader's table. When the moment was right, he would smartly strike each note in turn with a little hammer.

Satellite channels are expensive to lease at the moment, but they are getting cheaper all the time. Europe is a largely Catholic territory. We should be getting together with continental Catholics to get a commercial satellite off the ground.

There are rules, of course. For instance, we aren't allowed to beg for money, as the US funevangelists are. So Bishop Konstant will have to keep on banding out his leaflets for the time being. Nor are we allowed to show live exorcism, which is

perhaps just as well.

Neither the rules nor the costs are onerous. So let's not leave it to Morris Cerullo and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Presentation to broadcast the faith to Europe. Judging by the amazing amount of time people spend in front of television screens, broadcasting would spread the faith faster than any number of Fierce Sermons. Roll on VatSat.

Tying the Knot

A FOOTNOTE. The latest figures show that couples who live together before they get married are more likely to end up divorced than couples who wait till the knot has been tied before they live together. Yet more confirmation that the Church's moral teachings are as right in day-to-day practice as they are in theological theory.

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