BY MURRAY WHITE
PARISHIONERS HAVE Voiced
concern over a diocese's employment of an American fundraising company at a cost of almost £300,000 to raise cash for clergy pensions and other diocesan projects.
Bishop David Konstant of Leeds this week launched a £3 million appeal to set up a clergy retirement fund, develop the diocesan pastoral centre and refurbish Leeds Cathedral. The ambitious campaign has already raised £1 million in a pilot version of the scheme.
But some of the 175,000 churchgoers in the diocese have expressed disquiet about the employment of a US company, Community Counselling Services (CCS), to raise the cash for the projects. The Catholic Herald understands that some parishioners and clergy voiced opposition to the cost of the scheme during planning meetings in the diocese before Christmas.
One Bradford parishioner said this week: "This does seem to be a hugely excessive amount to be spending. And why do we need to go outside Britain to find people with the expertise to handle fundraising? Surely there must be professional Catholics closer to home."
Mgr John Murphy, Vicar General in the diocese, said that the diocesan financial board took a professional approach in its decision to employ staff from CCS, who have conducted similar fundraising campaigns for dioceses in the US.
He said: "If you are an architect, you expect to get 10 per cent of the costs of a project. It is the same here, you have to pay the going rate for professional expertise." Fears of a significant rise in the numbers of elderly, retired clergy in the Leeds diocese last year prompted a complete review of pensions arrangements. Bishop Konstant, launching the appeal last Sunday, said: "In the next few years the number of retired priests is likely to increase considerably. The best way to provide the necessary care would be to set up a retirement fund."
Mgr Murphy said that a £1.5 million fund would be a contingency against the diocese being caught short in the future. He said: "We have nine priests at St Gabriel's Home, Horsforth, for example, being cared for by the Sisters of Mercy. If they have to leave in the future, the costs of employing lay staff will rise by 200 per cent." £1.25 million is also wanted for the possible development of a new pastoral centre for the diocese. Clergy feel that the current centre at Myddleton Lodge, Ilkley, situated to the west of the diocese and needing refurbishment, may not be best located. The diocese is currently looking at alternative sites. The remaining £250,000 is to be put aside for urgent rewiring, decoration and refurbishment of St Anne's Cathedral.
Leeds diocese has partially recovered from a large deficit which reached almost £2 million three years ago. A plea by the bishop to double the income to parish collection plates met with success, including one anonymous donation of £1 million, but senior clergy say the situation has not been completely resolved.
Leading Catholic charities said this week that it was an "illusion" to expect no overheads from a professionallyrun fundraising campaign.