The Good News and the other news

Happy Easter! We are in Easter Week and it is the greatest of our Christian celebrations. The commemoration of Christ’s death and rising is the heart of our Christian faith.

For we Christians are not, as we are now often taken to be, a sort of mutual self-improvement society, people who band together to try to be better and nicer people, caring about justice, the poor, the environment and world peace. We do care about those things, but what makes us Christians rather than just decent people is that we believe the news of Easter: that every woman, man and child comes to life ultimately out of the loving creativity of God, and that each one matters to God, who wishes them to rise from their death to a new life with God. If evil and death had put an end to Jesus, who was God in humanity, it must be the fate of us all; but if Jesus died and was raised to life, death need not be the last word for any human being. That’s the Easter faith.

The Church and money: Some questions that have been asked a lot lately. I won’t give highly technical answers here, but I’ll briefly give the substance.

  1. Who owns church property? Under the laws of NSW, all property acquired by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle or any of its parishes, schools or agencies, belongs to the Trustees of the diocese, defined by the law as the Bishop and his Consultors. Under church law, however, property belongs to the ‘juridical person’ (we might say ‘organisation’) that acquired it, so that any land or church or school that was paid for from parish funds is the property of that parish. This is not generally noted in media estimates of what belongs to ‘the church’.
  2. What happens to the money I give at church? The first collection is pooled by the clergy of the diocese to pay equal salaries and living allowances to the active clergy and to provide for the retired men. The second collection goes to that parish’s funds. Envelope collections also go to the parish, though any tax deductible part of the collection has to be used by the parish for specific purposes, usually school building funds or approved charitable causes. The diocese generally receives 10% of this parish income, which was in the past the main source of funds for running the diocese.
  3. How is the diocese able to buy all the new property and buildings I’ve read about? Like home-buyers, we borrow the money. Fortunately we can borrow from the Catholic Development Fund so that profit from the interest we pay does not go to the shareholders of, say, the Commonwealth Bank, but remains in the diocese’s own financial institution. Apart from government grants we might get for part of the cost of a new school, what we spend on new schools, CatholicCare facilities or affordable housing projects is borrowed money.
  4. Instead of buying property, shouldn’t we be compensating survivors of abuse? We make cash settlements with survivors from money the diocese actually has now, whereas property is purchased by loans that will be paid back over many years. The two things are not really in competition for the same sorts of funds. And we have compensated very many survivors. The Royal Commission’s figures showed that we had then paid about $23m to survivors of abuse, mostly from diocesan funds though some claims were covered by insurance. There is no ‘typical’ settlement amount, but our average was then about $200,000, the highest for any diocese. (Bear in mind that the Commonwealth’s redress scheme will be capped at $150,000, and that the Royal Commission’s calculations of the scheme’s cost were based on an average redress payment of about $65,000.) We have not been shirking our responsibility to survivors. What we can borrow to do other things is a separate matter.
  5. Where does the money for child abuse settlements come from? Sometimes from insurance, but mostly from diocesan funds. The main source of these funds is the return on investments and loans made by the CDF. The relatively small amount that comes to the diocese from church collections contributes to meeting the normal running costs of the diocese, as it always has.
  6. Are you using money from schools to pay victims of clerical abuse? No. All government funding and all parent fees must by law be spent in the school system and duly accounted for. Of course, there are costs to running a school system that may arise from legitimate claims that people have against a school, for things like personal injury, workers compensation or, indeed, abuse at the hands of school staff. If any such claim were not covered by insurance, it would have to be met from the school system’s budget. This applies only to abuse by lay staff employed by schools. Historic claims against clergy who were teaching in schools, or against members of religious orders, are met by the diocese or the religious congregation to which the offender belonged.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.

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