Monday, July 18, 2022

Shrinking congregations grow angry at subsidising ‘shameless neighbours’ who ‘expect all the services’

Fr Brendan Hoban ZOOM talk to ACI 

A priest has warned of growing frustration among dwindling congregations who are having to effectively subsidise “shameless neighbours” who “expect all the services” from parishes but “contribute nothing to paying for them”.

Fr Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, the country’s largest group representing clerics, also warned that a “dire financial emergency” now faces many of the country’s parishes.

He described the financial crisis as the elephant in the church’s living room.

While congregations and collections have been declining for some years, this particular crisis was ushered in by the Covid outbreak and the long church closures that it necessitated, which has resulted in a lack of church collections.

Dwindling congregations and dwindling contributions are beginning to have an impact, said the Co Mayo priest.

“The legacy of the pandemic is that many of the elderly, often the most generous of parishioners, no longer attend church and more generally a significant cohort of pre-Covid attendees no longer come,” said Fr Hoban.

“The cumulative effect is that for the last few years only a percentage of the usual contributions arrived in parish accounts.”

Writing in his weekly column in the Western People, Fr Hoban warned that a small number of parishioners are now bearing the brunt of the cost of sustaining parish services where there is less income but the same need for sacraments and services.

“Usually, parishes are run on a shoestring budget and there are not many areas that allow for cutbacks.

“Parish buildings have to be maintained, insured and heated.

“The salaries of parish personnel have to be met – usually in rural parishes, this means just the priest or priests and in some instances a parish secretary,” he said.

“While generally the income of lay parish employees has remained at pre-Covid levels, incomes of priests have been cut by anything up to 25pc.”

Fr Hoban warned that cutbacks in most parishes will not be easy to come by, and he acknowledged that trying to increase income will be “an even trickier business”.

Among the challenges for parishes will be getting those who no longer come to church to make a contribution.

The retired Co Mayo parish priest suggested that the only comeback would be to introduce “an enhanced set of parish charges for funerals, weddings and baptisms on the basis that those who don’t contribute to the provision of services can hardly expect those who do, to pay for them”.

But he acknowledged that while this strategy makes sense, it creates a two-tier division of parish membership – those who return their envelopes or paid-up members of the parish and those who
do not.

Among the latter category are those “who simply refuse to pay” and those who may not be able to pay for whatever reason.

He said that the challenge was to be able to distinguish between the two.

Many parishes of the Catholic world are now in danger of running out of money, Fr Hoban warned.

He recalled a prelate proclaiming some years ago that “the church can’t be run on Hail Marys”.