The constraints brought about by Covid-19 have merely accelerated an inevitable decline, writes Chai Brady
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has never made a secret of the fact that he wanted out of Dublin when he was obliged to tender his resignation to the Pope on his 75th birthday. That milestone passed more than five months ago, and the archbishop is still in place facing many big decisions and headaches that should have been for his replacement to handle.
“That will be for my successor,” he frequently told interviewers when asked about the future. Now he still finds himself at the helm in the country’s largest diocese where financial pressures that were looming have been expedited due to the impact of Covid-19.
More than half of the archdiocese’s staff have sought to avail of a voluntary redundancy scheme catching the authorities by surprise.
The parish pastoral worker programme – once hailed as a bright dawn on future lay involvement in the Church – has been slashed by two thirds in recent years with a source claiming that just 11 pastoral workers are now left out of 33.
Diocesan officials initially hoped to make about 25 of the 82 staff redundant according to a spokeswoman, but in fact this newspaper understands more than 40 people applied for the scheme.
A statement from the archdiocese said the final figure will “not be clear until the end of the year”, but it is believed those who have applied have been accepted and the first redundancies have begun with some staff leaving last Friday.
A source familiar with the process who asked not to be named said: “I suppose for me where the sadness comes is in relation to the pastoral workers, here’s a lot of hurt and upset, people are just fed up; they’re going because of a lack of leadership and vision and they’re just very frustrated with the whole thing.
“I think people don’t realise that it’s the pastoral side of this that’s just mind-boggling…the pastoral workers that have walked away – they’re the cream of the crop, they’re highly qualified, creative and brilliant people, they’re just fed up and they’re gone: what a loss.”
A source added: “I think Covid-19 showed up a lot of things: most of the priests had to cocoon – they’re over 70 – and parishes are on their knees, yet the people who have the energy and are highly-qualified to lead parishes into the future are being let go, I just don’t understand.”
While acknowledging that the process was entirely voluntary, the source added: “I think people just felt this has no future financially if this is the situation.”
The Irish Catholic understands that when staff were informed of the voluntary redundancy scheme they were told candidly that coronavirus has simply accelerated the inevitable for the diocese.
Dublin along with the country’s other 25 dioceses has been badly hit financially by the pandemic, with a 70% reduction in the common fund and an 80% fall in the Share fund from March to June compared to the same period last year. Priests agreed to take a 25% decrease in their wages due to the financial consequences and diocesan staff have been relying on the temporary wage subsidy scheme.
Despite churches reopening, albeit with restrictions, there is not expected to be an increase in finances across parishes and dioceses, and the recovery is expected to be slow, with Dublin’s priests – according to the archdiocese – to be on reduced wages until 2021.
It’s believed that while many staff finished up last Friday, more will continue to leave in the run up to Christmas.
A spokeswoman for the diocese confirmed that the expected number of voluntary redundancies had been exceeded “however it will not be clear until the end of the year, when severance agreements are all finalised, just how many people will leave”.
At a time of rapid change and of challenge …each generation has to discern what the Spirit is saying in our time”
The archdiocese said there will be “significant savings in payroll costs and the scheme is expected to be cost neutral within approximately one year”.
“All required corporate governance and canonical approvals processes were followed. The cost of the scheme will be met from Diocesan funds.
“The final cost of the redundancies will be disclosed in the archdiocese’s 2020 accounts.”
Among some speculation, officials confirmed that the archbishop’s house is not for sale.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin spoke of the current challenging times for the Church in Ireland in a homily preached at the ordination ceremony of two deacons in the Parish of St Cronan, Brackenstown on August 28.
He insisted that: “Change challenges. To some, change may appear exciting and encouraging. For others, change may bring uncertainty and anxiety. Again for some, change may appear simply negative and disheartening.
“Change belongs to the DNA of the Church. The message of Jesus and the authentic teaching of the Church do not change. Yet that message is ever new. We must constantly deepen our understanding and our love for that message of Jesus in times that change.
“Today, at a time of rapid change and of challenge to so much of what is fundamental in life, each generation has to discern what the Spirit is saying in our time,” he said.
For the staff departing Dublin, there has been little time for discernment.
The next steps for the Church in the capital will inevitably fall to whoever Pope Francis picks to bring fresh leadership to Dublin.