Strug­gling Dublin arch­dio­cese mulls tax on faith­ful

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY JASON WALSH

DUBLIN | Ire­land’s deep re­ces­sion came at the worst pos­si­ble time for the coun­try’s largest Catholic Church district.

The Arch­dio­cese of Dublin lost mil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ments in Ire­land’s failed banks. Wages are soar­ing, and at­ten­dance is de­clin­ing. The church also is pay­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in le­gal set­tle­ments in a widen­ing sex scan­dal.

One pro­posed so­lu­tion: Tax the re­main­ing par­ish­ioners.

But many church­go­ers in this over­whelm­ingly Catholic na­tion are grum­bling over any at­tempt to force them to pay for what tra­di­tion­ally has been a vol­un­tary do­na­tion to fund the church.

“It’s con­trary to Irish cul­ture,” said David Quinn, a re­li­gious-af­fairs com­men­ta­tor from the Iona In­sti­tute Chris­tian think tank in Dublin.

He added that even tithing, pledg­ing one-tenth of one’s an­nual in­come to the church, is anath­ema to Irish Catholics.

An in­ter­nal re­port by the Coun­cil of Priests, the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the Dublin Ar­chio­cese, sug­gested that a “par­ish levy” could help re­verse the fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

“Col­lec­tions in the dio­cese have been de­creas­ing in re­cent years,” the re­port said, re­fer­ring to the 199 parishes un­der the au­thor­ity of Dublin Arch­bishop Diar­muid Martin.

“In a time of eco­nomic down­turn, as well as de­clin­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion at Sunday Mass, this is not sur­pris­ing.”

The Dublin Arch­dio­cese, the largest of 26 church districts in Ire­land, in­vested about $14.5 mil­lion in bank shares that are now es­ti­mated at only about $43,500.

Be­cause of a short­age of priests, the arch­dio­cese has had to hire more costly lay mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion for some non­re­li­gious jobs once performed by the clergy, and wage costs are up 500 per­cent over the past decade.

Vol­un­tary do­na­tions to the church have fallen with a de­creas­ing at­ten­dance at Sunday Mass, and the church ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cash re­serves have been wiped out by child-abuse set­tle­ments.

The church has paid nearly $20 mil­lion in set­tle­ments and le­gal fees in 172 cases against 44 priests. Fifty-five more law­suits are pend­ing.

“The arch­dio­cese has to face the cur­rent se­ri­ous eco­nomic re­al­ity and re­view what it can and can­not sup­port fi­nan­cially in the coming years,” the Dublin Arch­dio­cese said in a state­ment.

“It is com­plex sit­u­a­tion which will re­quire a mul­ti­fac­eted, con­sid­ered re­sponse.”

One of the doc­u­ment’s pro­pos­als to re­lieve the fi­nan­cial cri­sis is a “par­ish levy,” which would re­quire Catholic fam­i­lies to make reg­u­lar pay­ments to bail out the dio­cese.

The per-per­son amount of the church levy was not spec­i­fied in the doc­u­ment, but the re­port said the goal would be to raise more than $4 mil­lion a year.

The Irish Catholic Church tra­di­tion­ally has re­lied on do­na­tions from con­gre­ga­tions rather than for­mal tithes or a gov­ern­ment-col­lected church tax like the ones im­posed in Den­mark, Ger­many, Ice­land and Swe­den.

“The church tax in Ger­many is very suc­cess­ful,” said Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the Irish Catholic, the in­de­pen­dent weekly news­pa­per that first re­ported about the in­ter­nal church doc­u­ment.

“The Ger­man Catholic Church heav­ily sub­si­dizes the Vat­i­can,” he added.

How­ever, the Ger­man Catholic Church has faced steady at­tri­tion over the past decade, in part from par­ish­ioners try­ing to get out of pay­ing the church tax.

Irish Catholics are likely to rebel against such a tax, Mr. Kelly said. that doesn’t have a prop­erty tax.

How­ever, he added, “If you be­lieve in the church’s spir­i­tu­al­ity, you should re­ally put your money where your mouth is.”

Mr. Quinn of the Iona think tank agreed.

“It won’t even get off the draw­ing board. The dio­cese is go­ing to have to look to other ideas,” he

With the Irish church’s rep­u­ta­tion at a new low, Mass at­ten­dance in Dublin is es­ti­mated at just 20 per­cent of Catholics. The Rev. Aquinas Duffy from Dublin’s St. Pius X Church said he sees how the re­ces­sion has emp­tied col­lec­tion plates. “In the last few years, now, it’s par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able that the in­come for the par­ish has been drop­ping steadily,” he said on Irish na­tional ra­dio. “A lot of it, I think, is that peo­ple just don’t have it.”

“I don’t think there’s any ap­petite for it now,” he said. “It would be seen as a bridge too far.”

Lor­can Price, 25, a Catholic lawyer in Dublin, added: “Peo­ple in this coun­try are fairly re­sis­tant to any­thing like a tax.”

He noted that Ire­land is “one of the few coun­tries in the world” said. “Of course [be­liev­ers] should pay, but the ques­tion is: Should it be vol­un­tary or a qu­a­sitax.”

With the Irish church’s rep­u­ta­tion at a new low, Mass at­ten­dance in Dublin is es­ti­mated at just 20 per­cent of Catholics.

The Rev. Aquinas Duffy from Dublin’s St. Pius X Church said he sees how the re­ces­sion has emp­tied col­lec­tion plates.

“In the last few years, now, it’s par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able that the in­come for the par­ish has been drop­ping steadily,” he said on Irish na­tional ra­dio.

“A lot of it, I think, is that peo­ple just don’t have it.”

Fa­ther Duffy said priests re­ported a 6 per­cent drop in their in­come in 2010 and that lay con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers in “key lead­er­ship roles” had to be paid in or­der to en­sure the church’s fu­ture.

Dublin priests con­tacted for this ar­ti­cle de­clined to com­ment.

Some Catholics worry that the church will cut back on so­cial pro­grams as a re­sult of its dire fi­nan­cial trou­bles.

“There are a lot of wor­thy Dublin Dio­cese projects — so­cial out­reach, food kitchens — and that may come un­der pres­sure,” said Mr. Price. “The church also has el­derly clergy to take care of.”

Dublin res­i­dent and parish­ioner Paddy Mon­aghan said the church should look for other ways to raise money.

“I think there’s a lot of [church] prop­erty in Dublin,” he said. “There are things that can be done without ask­ing par­ish­ioners for more.”

Irish pil­lars: A Ro­man Catholic church rises right next to the Guin­ness Brewer y in Dublin, Ire­land.

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