AN archbishop has asked priests to pay up to €720 each year into a fund used to compensate victims of clerical sex abuse.
The Irish Independent has learned that letters have been sent by Archbishop Dermot Clifford to all priests in the Cashel and Emly Archdiocese asking them to pay between €50 and €60 per month to a Clergy Contribution Fund.
The letter says the money will be paid into the fund because of the "debts incurred in relation child protection issues" -- but does not say it would be used for payouts.
However, it has been learned that the fund in question was quietly set up three years ago and is solely used to pay compensation for clerical sex abuse.
When contacted, a spokes-man for the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly refused to comment -- or to say how much money has been paid in relation to the "child protection issues".
Up to 80 priests in 46 parishes across Tipperary and Limerick have been asked to contribute to the Clergy Contribution Fund. If every priest complied with the request, it would raise approximately €50,000 for the diocese per annum.
Curates are paid around €20,000 per year, with parish priests paid marginally more. They are paid centrally from the diocese. The diocese, in turn, receives money from each parish, with the amount determined by the number of Catholic residents it has.
The priests were not informed how much has been paid out or what is the current balance of the Clergy Contribution Fund. The administration of the fund is overseen by the archbishop.
The diocesan spokesman refused to reveal the balance of the fund -- and said the letter was "strictly confidential". The spokesman added that it was a private matter and that no figures had been disclosed.
In the letter marked 'Private and Confidential to the Clergy of Cashel and Emly', Dr Clifford reminded his colleagues that, at the last meeting of the Council of Priests, a discussion took place amongst council members regarding the Clergy Contribution Fund.
"Due to debts incurred in relation to child protection issues, it is the opinion of the council that I make a renewed appeal to the priests of the diocese for the restoration of contributions to the fund," Dr Clifford wrote.
"The suggested level of contribution in this renewed appeal was made at the Council of Priests that parish priests contribute €60 per month and curates €50," he added.
The contributions are voluntary and it is understood any contributions come directly and solely from the salaries of priests.
Dr Clifford said it is recommended that contributions be deducted at source from priests' monthly allowance.
"This arrangement would facilitate the smooth operation of the fund," he wrote.
However, the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (ISCA) dismissed this suggestion last night, saying the letter amounted to a request that compensation be provided by friends and relatives of abuse victims as priests would inevitably receive money from parishioners.
Priests have previously voluntarily donated to the fund from their own resources on an intermittent basis.
Neither the diocesan spokesman nor their child protection delegate would comment on what were the child protection issues which resulted in debts for the Clergy Contribution Fund.
It is unknown how many, if any, other dioceses have asked priests to contribute from their own salaries towards payouts for victims of clerical sex abuse.
Yesterday, the vast majority failed to respond to queries asking them to set out their individual stance.
However, the Archdiocese of Dublin, as well as the Dioceses of Waterford and Lismore and of Down and Connor, did respond to confirm that no such request had been made of their own clergy.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Ireland said the issue of fundraising and of how that money is used is a matter for individual dioceses.