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Monday 20 November 2017

Claims bill will force diocese to sell church properties

ASSETS

Ralph Riegel and Luke Byrne

THE cash-strapped Diocese of Cloyne will be forced into a fire-sale of church assets to fund compensation settlements from its failures on child protection.

The Irish Independent has learned that a number of old church properties in the diocese are being considered for disposal to help pay for civil claims arising from incidents of clerical abuse.

The new Bishop of Cloyne faces a poisoned chalice of a diocese with a demoralised clergy and years of having to fund abuse compensation claims.

Cloyne's current administrator, Archbishop Dr Dermot Clifford, said the new bishop -- who is expected to be confirmed next autumn -- faced a very tough task.

"A new bishop will be appointed, hopefully -- from my point of view, the sooner the better," he said.

"But it will probably take a little bit of time longer before a new bishop arrives in the diocese. He will have a hard job to do, I can tell you.

"Priests will obviously be very demoralised and very disappointed. They will need very strong leadership."

Dr Clifford said the primary challenge facing the new appointee would be financial.

"There will be a lot of compensation to be paid. Some has already been paid. The resources of the diocese financially will be very low -- and it will be a big job to do to rebuild the Diocese of Cloyne. It will take some time. It is a bit like our own (Irish) economy at the moment," he said.

The Vatican is expected to fill the Cloyne vacancy next autumn.

Five compensation claims have been settled to date by Cloyne. In each case, the diocese did not admit legal liability.

But it is estimated that it faces more than a dozen more claims, with the bill potentially running to millions of euro.

Cloyne, once one of the wealthiest Catholic dioceses in Ireland, must now make drastic financial decisions.

Burden

Former Cork East TD and Cobh-based councillor John Mulvihill (Labour) said the disposal of the Bishop's Palace in the Cork harbour town and splitting its proceeds between the community and a victims' compensation fund would represent a genuine gesture of contrition.

He said: "There are plenty of fine church-owned buildings in Cobh that would be perfectly adequate for a bishop."

"I think selling off the Bishop's Palace for the benefit of both the Cobh community and victims would be a step in the right direction."

The church has refused to say how much has been paid in compensation so far or how much will have to be set aside to settle future claims.

"We don't know yet (the final amount). Giving figures now would not be fair to the (abuse) survivors," the archbishop said.

"We couldn't give a figure now. We have sold some houses already. We have four or five settlements to date. That's it."

The diocese also faces increased training and support costs in relation to child-protection issues.

Dr Clifford hit out at suggestions that the diocese boasted a vast property portfolio that was readily available for disposal.

"We don't have an awful lot else to sell, to be honest with you. We had a few houses (sold)," he said.

"In the diocese, every parish owns its own property. We had a few houses actually belonged to the diocese and that's how we were able to sell them.

"But we couldn't go down to a parish and say, 'You have a particular house there that you are no longer using, we will sell that and use it for the compensation.' They would not have it."

However, one diocesan source has hinted that parishes with unused and unwanted properties could voluntarily assign them to the diocese, potentially helping to ease the financial burden that is now facing Cloyne.

Irish Independent

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