Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Parishes asked to sell houses and fund diocese abuse bill

PARISH priests in a scandal-hit diocese have been told to draw up a list of properties that can be sold to raise funds for child-abuse compensation.

The Irish Independent has learned that the Diocese of Cloyne in Cork is making the move in a desperate bid to shore up its finances.

Buildings that previously housed priests will be put on the market to help pay the looming compensation bill.

The Diocese of Cloyne will also be seeking a voluntary 6pc levy on all gains from the future sales of parish property.

That means that the parish - which normally controls its own finances - will have to hand over a portion of the proceeds from the sale of property to the overall diocese coffers.

The diocese admits it owns little residential property suitable for immediate disposal. But local parishes -- which do have suitable properties - will be asked to consider to consider selling off houses they don't need.

While the sale decision will remain strictly with the individual parishes, this method has been identified as a key factor in restoring diocesan finances.

The bill for compensation claims in the diocese is expected to reach millions of euro.

Last month, a report into child protection in the diocese identified a litany of failings under the watch of former Bishop John Magee. 

Archbishop Dr Dermot Clifford -- who has been running Cloyne since early 2009 -- admitted it could be years before the diocesan finances fully recovered from the fallout of the scandal.

"There will be a lot of compensation to be paid -- some has already been paid. The resources of the diocese financially will be very low and it will be a big job to rebuild the Diocese of Cloyne," he said.

However, the diocese will face major hurdles in raising the cash because the individual parishes own the properties, and a decision must be taken at local level on whether to sell or not.

And even if they do opt to sell buildings, property prices have fallen by up to 50pc in some parts of Cork.

The diocese's major assets, such as the Bishop's Palace in Cobh, are unsuitable for disposal in the midst of the worst property crisis in Irish history.

The last major property the Diocese of Cloyne was able to sell -- a former clerical house in Killeagh in east Cork -- fetched €240,000 two years ago.

The individual 46 parishes in Cloyne own a great quantity of residential property, including houses formerly used as homes for clergy. Many of these are now surplus to requirements, given the declining number of priests.

The diocese has a catchment area of about 250,000 people with 133 clerics. That is around 60pc of the number clerics it had 20 years ago.

Diocesan spokesman Fr Jim Killeen said the 6pc levy would be aimed at supporting diocesan finances.

"The diocese actually owns very little property (suitable for sale). That is what we will be asking parishes to contribute," he said.

But since 2008, parishes have been extremely reluctant to sell property given the slashed market returns available.

"It is perfectly understandable, after all, the market is pretty difficult at the moment," Fr Killeen added.

Cloyne is the latest diocese to be identified as having had serious child-protection failings in the past following similar damning reports on the dioceses of Ferns and Dublin.

The Archdiocese of Dublin -- which faces more than €13m in compensation payments -- is considering a Mass levy.

But the Irish Independent understands there are no plans for special diocesan Mass collections to support compensation payments in Cloyne.

Any such move would be hugely controversial in the area. Fine Gael TD Tom Barry, who lives in the Diocese of Cloyne, has bluntly warned against this option. 

Cloyne has to date settled a total of five compensation claims but it now faces at least a dozen more such claims.