Friday, October 29, 2010

Catholic church struggles with cost of pope's visit to UK

The Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales has until April to clear its multi-million pound debt with the government over the papal visit, with officials admitting they are currently unsure how the cost will be met.

The government covered many of the church's contributions towards the four-day trip, which took place last month, and wants the money to be repaid by the end of the financial year.

The church has raised £6.5m but, as the total costs are £10m, it faces a £3.5m shortfall. 

It is counting on diocesan and individual contributions, in addition to sales of a papal visit prayer book, to settle the account.

A parish collection raised just £1.4m while appeals to the wealthy were more successful, netting around £4m. The previous papal visit, from John Paul II in 1982, left the church £13m in debt as it had to foot the bill entirely for the pastoral tour.

A spokesman for the Church in England and Wales told the Catholic Herald: "It's up to the papal visit trustees to decide how to deal with any shortfall that's still there in April – we are just waiting for the government to pass the bills on once they are all in. As they do not yet have all the bills it is hard to say what the exact financial costs will be. Not all the monies from the Magnificat [prayer book] have come in yet and there are still other sources we are waiting for."

Last night a Foreign Office spokesman was unable to give the precise amount owed by the church but said: "We are currently reconciling all the costs from the visit and will be able to update how much the church owes in due course."

Earlier this month it emerged that the state bill of £10m was to be split between different government departments, with £3.7m coming from environment and energy budgets.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Treasury said the total budget for the four-day visit, excluding policing, was £10m.

These costs were administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which paid the first £750,000, while the remaining £9.25m was split equally between the five departments the Treasury considered as having policy objectives aligned with the government's aims for the visit.

The departments for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs; Communities and Local Government; Education and International Development also contributed.


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