Comment & Analysis

Archdiocesan accounts: opening up the numbers
The finances of Dublin archdiocese have never been so transparent, writes Greg Daly

On the face of it, comparing this year’s financial reports from the Archdiocese of Dublin with its Share Newsletters of previous years is a case of comparing apples and oranges.

Previous practice in the archdiocese entailed the publication, typically in April, of a short newsletter consisting of a brief statement of incomes and expenditures and a longer statement of receipts and payments, accompanied by lists of parishes, one detailing how much had been collected from individual parishes and another showing which parishes had been helped and by how much.

The figures in these statements would relate to the year that had come to a close at the end of the previous June.

There was, however, no Share Newsletter last April, owing to changes relating to charity regulation following the Charities Act 2009 and a decision to release the ‘Parishes of the Diocese of Dublin’ report in tandem with the ‘Charities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin’ report.

This April, therefore, saw instead the publication of accounts, not for the 12 months from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015, but instead for the 18 months to 31 December 2015.

Henceforth, accounts will be issued in line with the new year-end date, and The Irish Catholic understands that a second set of reports is scheduled to be published this October, presumably with the intention that this will be the standard disclosure date from then on.

Practice

Although retaining an April publication date would be consistent with established practice, it would mean that Dublin’s parishioners would typically see accounts a full 16 months after the period they cover had ended, whereas October publications will see a 10-month lag similar to that which was the case until April 2015.

This decision is a sensible one: transparency and accountability would seem to demand that ordinary lay parishioners, as the key stakeholders in the financial health of the archdiocese, should have as up-to-date an understanding of the diocese’s finances as possible.

That said, as things stand the new set of accounts reveal a lot – indeed, they reveal more than previously published accounts have ever done, for which ordinary parishioners should be glad.

The first challenge is how to relate the accounts to those previously published, and so far in this respect neither early media coverage nor diocesan summaries have been especially helpful.

“Share collections in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, which fund its support services, dropped significantly in the 18-month period to the end of December 2015, ending with a deficit of €3.65 million,” began the principal report on the subject in The Irish Times, for instance, noting later that, “in the five-year period from 2010 to 2015, average weekly contributions to Share collections in the archdiocese dropped from about €140,000 to almost €128,000, a fall of more than 10%.”

The latter point tallies with a claim in this year’s Share Newsletter that there has been a “steady decline in Share contributions in recent years”, illustrated with a chart [pictured] showing the average weekly Share collection dropping from 2010 to 2015.

The reality, however, appears to be that Share collections have in fact risen slightly since June 2014, just as they rose slightly from 2012 to 2013. Assuming a 52-week year, the financial year that ended on June 30 2010 saw a weekly share collection of €154,000.

Average

Average weekly collections in the following years were €133,558 for the year ended June 30 2011, €129,788 for the year ended June 30 2012, €130,077 for the year ended June 30 2013, and €125,058 for the year ended June 30 2014.

According to the Share Newsletter, the total Share collection across the diocese of Dublin for the 18 months to 31 December 2015 was €10,038,000; again assuming a 52-week year, this means the average weekly collection over the 78 weeks of this period was €128,692, an increase of €3,654 per week, or 3% since the previous year.

While these figures don’t, of course, take account of inflation or the changing value of money, they nonetheless suggest that while the Share collection dropped dramatically as the recession began to bite, it has neither recovered nor steadily declined since then, instead fluctuating within a fairly narrow range.

Expanding

The Share Fund, it should be understood, is one of four key elements in the ‘Parishes of the Diocese of Dublin’. Primarily based on the second collection at Dublin Masses, its main purposes are to support disadvantaged parishes and to meet the diocese’s administrative costs.

Originally intended in the main to build churches and schools in an expanding city, it nowadays is directed in large part towards strengthening Catholic communities and families, not least by training people for evangelisation, catechesis, safeguarding and financial management, as well as maintaining the schools of the diocese.

Whereas the Share Fund’s total income – collections, donations, legacies, gains on investments, bank interest and other income – over the 18 months covered by the reports was €10,510,000, expenses over the period totalled €14,165,000, resulting in a deficit of €3,655,000.

The fund, therefore, which had been almost €18m at the start of the period, was reduced to less than €14.5m by 31 December 2015.

Given how many things the Share Fund has to pay for, and how extensive training has been a hallmark of diocesan practice in recent years, it is perhaps not surprising that a modest increase in weekly collections has not been enough to maintain a healthy Share balance.

Indeed, diocesan support services increased from under €3.5m for the 12 months to 30 June 2014 to over €7.6m for the next 18 months: in practical terms, this suggests an increase from €67,135 per week to €98,128 a week, while parish pastoral workers, absent from the 2014 accounts, cost €2,240,000 or €28,718 a week during the 18 months to the end of 2015. The two expenses combined almost equal the amount received in Share collections during the period.

Offerings

The Common Fund, the second of the four elements in the Parishes report, is intended for the remuneration of priests serving in the diocese, and is funded by the first collection in Dublin’s Sunday Masses as well as through dues and offerings for baptisms, funerals and weddings: separate figures are given for dues and for collections, with the latter figure for the period ending on December 31, 2015 being €15,376,000.

This might seem to suggest that financial support for priests has collapsed across the Archdiocese of Dublin. When considering trends relating to this figure, however, it’s important to note not merely that the most recent figures relate to an 18-month period, but that in previous years’ Share Newsletters, the figure labelled “collection for the support of priests” included both the collection proper and the dues and offerings.

In practical terms, then, what was in the past informally classed as a collection for the support of priests is now formally identified as the Common Fund.

It’s important to understand this, lest a crude comparison of the last two sets of collection figures might lead one to wonder if weekly collections for clergy had plummeted by almost a third, from €291,808 to €197,128. Instead it seems that average weekly collections for clergy, when dues and offerings are taken into account, have dropped by a rather less dramatic €15,731 to €276,077.

The fund helped pay for 390 priests to serve in the diocese. Readers of The Irish Catholic may recall that last year this paper established that the basic stipend for a curate in the Archdiocese of Dublin is €23,218 per annum, with medical insurance also being paid for. Parish priests, moderators and administrators receive annual support of €27,873, while increments are also paid to the diocese’s priests at five-yearly intervals from five to 45 years after ordination.

Transferred

€2,750,000 was transferred from the Common Fund to the Clerical Fund, which meets the care costs of elderly priests and those who are out of ministry through illness – all told there are over 100 such priests in the diocese, 71 of whom received payments during the period.

The transfer from the Common Fund made up the bulk of the Clerical Fund’s income during the 18-month period of the reports, this being supplemented by €559,000 raised through donations, legacies, investments and other incomes.  Slightly over €2.7m was spent on nursing homes, homecare costs and insurance.

The fourth key element in the Parish accounts are the Parish Funds, which draw together the combined financial statements of all diocesan parishes with the exception of eight parishes, the assets of which are owned and managed by religious orders.

Total income for the parishes over the period was €44.9m, with the largest portion of this being raised through the family offering collection, which at €258,436 per week on average was marginally higher than the equivalent weekly figure for the year ended June 2014.

While income and expenditure in the archdiocese is straightforward enough, in some ways one would expect the trickiest part of the accounts to be the valuation of assets.

Heritage assets like art and chalices are not recorded as assets because they’re not held for investment or with any intent to dispose of them, and while the value of land owned by the diocese has not been included in the current accounts but should be determined for the next set of accounts, buildings – including churches – are reckoned as worth €91.5m.

The diocese’s schools are not, significantly, included in that figure. Although, strictly speaking, the charity is formally called the ‘Schools and Parishes of the Diocese of Dublin’, the financial statements relating to the operation of the 647 voluntary-aided diocesan schools are excluded from the report.

The school properties – both the buildings and the lands where the buildings are sited – are vested in the St Laurence O’Toole Trust on behalf, as a rule, of the parishes where the schools are located. Although the schools are owned by parishes and other religious bodies, the financial reports treat them as being held in custody rather than owned, so like artwork, they are not recorded as assets in the accounts. The trust is not a charity.

The ‘Charities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin’, on the other hand, is a charitable trust, and includes the financial statements of the diocesan offices and a number of charitable funds the diocese administers.

Details

If the Parishes report is interesting mainly in terms of comparisons with reports from previous years, the Charities report’s main value comes from the extraordinary number of details it reveals.

For instance, the report includes a mixture of unrestricted and restricted funds, with one of the former, the General Fund, comprising bequests and donations given for charitable purposes to be dispensed at the archbishop’s discretion. 

Beginning the period with a deficit of €7,366,000, the fund was still €6,250,000 in the red as December 2015 drew to a close. The major areas of expenditure for the scheme were the diocesan pension scheme and the need to provide compensation to survivors of sexual abuse by priests, which cost the diocese €1,355,000 during the period, with there being €15.8m set aside as a provision for possible future compensation.

The diocesan pension scheme, meanwhile, saw its deficit rising from €17.8m when the period began to €20.3m at the end of it. 

Among the restricted funds, on the other hand, are the Irish Martyrs Fund, which had reserves of €2.1m as the period ended, and the New Cathedral Fund, which ended the year with almost €1.1m in the bank.

In July 2015 the Charities Regulatory Authority gave permission for the latter fund to be used for the refurbishment, repair, maintenance and operation of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, as, according to the reports, “there is no intention to build a new cathedral in the diocese”.  One might wonder then whether the diocese should arrange for St Mary’s to be formally classified as a cathedral at last, or whether Ireland’s diocese should continue in perpetuity without its own formally-designated cathedral other than those taken from it during the Reformation.

As for the martyrs’ fund, established in the 19th Century and augmented by a major fundraising drive in the early 20th Century to help pay for expenses linked with promoting the beatification and canonisation causes of the Irish Martyrs, no grants were made from the fund during the period, and efforts are underway to have the terms of the trust altered so that should it be the case that not all funds in the trust be needed for the promotion of causes they can be used to help the needy. 

This is a defensible, even a laudable aim, and one that Blessed Margaret Ball, for instance, would surely support.

Crosscare

During the period of the accounts, meanwhile, almost €1.1m was paid out from the Poor of Dublin fund, almost half of this going to Crosscare which also received most of the €437,000 issued from the De La Saussave Trust, while grants worth €666,000 were issued from the O’Brien Educational Trust Fund to aid the education of disadvantaged children.

While €400,000 was received by the Burse Fund, for the education of students to the priesthood and the permanent diaconate, €535,000 was paid from the fund during the period.  According to the accounts, the diocese has 10 seminarians training to be priests and 14 candidates training for the permanent diaconate.

Among the financial gains by the archdiocese during the period three things stand out. Assets and net reserves worth almost €7.5m were transferred from Holy Cross College, while a further €148,000 was transferred from the Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal. Most promisingly for the future, ‘Living the Joy of the Gospel’, a fundraising scheme piloted in just 10 parishes, cost €691,000 but brought in pledges of funding to the tune of €5.5m, eight times the cost of the project.

“A review of the pilot programme has subsequently taken place and it has been decided to establish a permanent funding office for the charity,” the report says. With homeless numbers on the rise, a pension crisis stretching the diocese, and Dublin being mission territory in need of committed and intelligent re-evangelisation, it’s not a moment too soon.