Audit of parish after complaints of financial irregularity
THE bishop of Down and Connor has commissioned an independent audit of a parish after complaints of financial mismanagement - including concerns over the sale of a "significant property" gifted to the Church in a parishioner's will.
The Co Down parish of Drumbo and Carryduff has been under investigation since October 2015 after a formal complaint was raised with Bishop Noel Treanor by five members of the finance committee.
It is expected that the investigation will conclude in coming weeks.
The rift in the church has seen the entire membership of the Parish Finance Committee (PFC) removed by parish priest Fr Martin Kelly.
The five members had collectively raised "serious issues of concern" in May 2015 over procurement of goods and services and the sale of "parish property".
The Irish News understands that the latter relates to a large house in the area that was left as a gift to the parish following the death of an elderly parishioner.
While the average house price in Carryduff is around £300,000, properties in the commuter town on the outskirts of south Belfast are on the market for as much as half a million pounds.
The committee was concerned that the sale of the property was not transacted on the open market, and sought reassurances that it had been sold to "an unconnected purchaser on an arm's length basis... at full market value".
A month later all five were removed from the committee - which has since been reconstituted with new members - six months before the end of its second three-year term.
The former committee argue that this is against regulations which are clear: "If a member is removed the bishop should be informed and a reason given."
They say, a year later, they have still not been given a reason for their summary removal, despite having approached the diocese with their concerns in July 2015 and filed a formal complaint three months later.
The five men have also questioned, in an open letter to fellow parishioners, why the parish bank account was suspended last July.
Parishioners have been encouraged to write to the bishop asking him to answer the questions raised by former members of the PFC.
A diocesean spokesman confirmed Bishop Treanor was aware of the allegations.
"The Diocese of Down and Connor can confirm that an official complaint was received in October 2015 alleging financial mismanagement concerning the Parish of Drumbo and Carryduff," he said.
"The Diocese takes all such complaints and allegations of financial mismanagement seriously and responds accordingly.
"Upon receiving this official complaint, the Diocese commissioned an independent investigatory audit of the financial management of the parish to address the concerns raised.
"It would be inappropriate for the Diocese to make any further comment whilst this independent financial investigation is ongoing."
When approached for comment, Fr Kelly referred the Irish News to the diocese.