Catholic church Down and Connor diocese has assets worth £140m

Down and Connor bishop Noel Treanor at the ordination of Fr Andrew Black in St Colmcille's Church, Holywood, in 2015. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Brendan Hughes

A CATHOLIC Church diocese in the north had an income last year of close to £25m - with almost half coming from donations such as offertory collections.

Down and Connor diocese also had assets worth almost £140m including more than £20m of cash in the bank, but its expenditure reached nearly £29m.

The finances are revealed in newly published records submitted to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

It is the first time a Catholic Church diocese has had its funds made public through the north's charity regulator.

The watchdog was created in 2009 and since 2013 has been gradually calling forward groups and organisations to formally register for charitable status.

Once registered, charities are required to provide annual accounts for publication online.

The process is aimed at encouraging transparency and giving the public confidence over how their donations are used.

It is estimated there are between 7,000 and 12,000 charities operating in Northern Ireland.

According to the Charity Commission website, nearly 2,000 registered charities have so far provided up-to-date accounts. Of these, only 68 have an income above £1m.

Registered as the Down And Connor Diocesan Trust, the 2016 accounts show the diocese had £138.9m of total assets less current liabilities and parish loan accounts. This included almost £20.7m of cash in hand and in the bank.

Our Lady's Care Home in west Belfast, which the diocese has since sold, and Glenmona Resource Centre on the Glen Road, which it no longer manages, are included in the figures for 2016.

The long-term assets include more than £80m worth of land and property, including church property and contents.

Its income fell from around £26.8m in 2015 to £24.7m last year.

This included parishes receiving around £12.2m last year in Sunday offertory and other donations.0

Expenditure increased slightly from almost £28m to around £28.8m in 2016.

The diocese had an average of 459 employees during the year. One employee was paid a salary within the band £110,000 to £119,999 while another received between £70,000 and £79,999.

Neither employee is a member of the clergy.

Pay and expenses for clergy in the diocese totalled £243,000.

It is understood that a curate's annual salary is £15,000, rising to £16,200 for a parish priest while a bishop earns £19,500.

According to the report, around one in five Catholics in the diocese attend weekend Masses.

It says there are around 325,000 Catholics in the diocese, which consists of 87 parishes. In 2014, the most recent statistics available, the average number attending weekend Masses was 72,818.

The report details the various activities the diocese is involved in, including faith development and bereavement support.

A Down and Connor diocese spokesman said: "The annual accounts demonstrate how resources are being used to ensure that the Church in Down and Connor fulfils its sacred mission of spreading the gospel and ministering to the people of God throughout the diocese and the wider civic community.

"It reflects the dedicated efforts of priests, religious and faithful who through their pastoral care and charitable initiatives serve those entrusted to them."

The spokesman said it was "essential and prudent that careful management of financial resources is continually exercised so as to ensure that the church's mission will continue to flourish into the future".

He added: "The diocese acknowledges and commends the hard work of so many professionals and volunteers throughout the diocese who have given of their time, skills and experience.

"In particular, the diocese thanks the members of the trustee board and all involved at parish and curial level for their ongoing and dedicated commitment to the life and mission of the Church in Down and Connor."

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