English Catholic bishop seeks govt financial aid after COVID lockdown losses
SHREWSBURY, United Kingdom, July 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic bishop in the north of England has called on the government to give churches financial assistance due to a “dramatic fall” in income during the coronavirus lockdown.
“The weeks of the national lockdown saw a dramatic fall of about a third in parish income. This is having a serious impact on the operation of parishes,” Bishop Mark Davies of the Diocese of Shrewsbury told the Catholic News Agency (CNA).
In March, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales prohibited the celebration of public Masses before the lockdown came into force and, according to their own statement, played a crucial role themselves in convincing the government to require that churches be closed altogether.
Now that churches are allowed to open again, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) has released guidance for the resumption of the public celebration of Mass, which includes members of the congregation wearing face coverings, allowing Holy Communion only in the hand while standing, not allowing congregational singing, and encouraging those who receive Communion to leave the church immediately after Mass.
“We have been working to mitigate the impact at parish level and are grateful for parishioners who were able to continue giving support via online giving through the crisis otherwise the situation would be even more serious,” Davies said.
“The Shrewsbury Diocese will be looking at what savings are possible by reducing costs or deferring expenditure. This sadly means that the largest outgoings in parishes on planned repairs and maintenance will be an area where savings will be sought.”
Davies told CNA that he supports the suggestion recently proposed by local politician Mike Kane, Labour M.P. for Wythenshawe and Sale East, for the government to consider an enhanced Gift Aid scheme to help faith communities mitigate the financial damage of the lockdown. Kane told the House of Commons last that the Shrewsbury diocese income was down by a third since the start of lockdown, almost £700,000 (roughly $875,000).
The U.K.’s Gift Aid scheme increases the value of donations made to charities by 25% by allowing them to reclaim the basic rate tax already paid by the donor.
“In 2008 there was a transitional relief scheme for Gift Aid to support charities when the income tax rate reduced from 22% to 20%, worth an estimated £100 million to charities at that time. A similar kind of enhanced arrangement is now needed to support charities, including dioceses across the country,” Davies said.
“As this has already been an operational scheme, the mechanism for the delivery following lockdown should be feasible and easy for the government to put in place quickly.”
Dr. Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society Society of England & Wales, told LifeSiteNews that it was time for the bishops to reassess their priorities and make some “painful decisions.”
“The epidemic has accelerated processes which were happening anyway: a steady fall in Mass attendance and income,” Shaw said.
“This is unlikely to recover fully. If Brexit limits the supply of Catholic immigrants from Central Europe, which had been slowing this process down, this will create a serious financial problem for the Church, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well,” he continued.
“Dioceses are not going to go broke: they have enormous property portfolios in prime city locations. But the prospect of lay diocesan bureaucrats paying themselves out of our patrimony of church buildings while the Church effectively ceases to exist as a presence on the ground is not a happy one.”
Shaw said modern liturgical practices play a key role in destroying both vocations and Mass attendance.
“It is past time for bishops to make some painful decisions: not about closing parishes, which they are well used to doing, but about attracting vocations and bringing people back to the practice of the Faith,” he said.
“They know that female altar servers, modern hymns, and excluding Latin from seminary liturgy is destroying vocations and Mass attendance, but up to now they have regarded these things as too important to sacrifice. Perhaps now would be a good moment to reassess their priorities.”