Priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin have been hit with a 25 per cent pay cut in an effort to offset the huge drop in income caused by the closure of churches due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to priests in the diocese, and seen by the Tablet, Fr Paul Taylor, chairman of the cxecutive committee of the Common Fund, explains that the substantial cut was necessitated by the fact that since the crisis arose, “the revenue that pays our stipends has collapsed”.
He says: “The Covid-19 virus is wreaking havoc across the world. Added to loss of life and serious illness, loss of work and uncertainty about the future leaves very few untouched. As priests, we are walking and working with many traumatised people."
Fr Taylor, parish priest of Rathgar in Dublin, warns that Common Fund resources, funded by the first basket collection at Sunday Masses as well as the Easter and Christmas dues, “are now greatly depleted, putting in jeopardy the possibility to maintain current stipends for the next months”.
At a meeting of the diocese’s Vicars Forane on 20 March 2020, a suggestion was made that priests accept an immediate reduction in their monthly stipend. This was put to a vote, accepted by all, with one abstention.
The Common Fund committee decided however to continue pay priests their full salary through the months of March and April.
In his letter, Fr Taylor says that as an “emergency measure”, the Executive Committee of the Common Fund, has now “reluctantly” decided that from May, priests will see a 25 per cent reduction in their monthly payment for the period of the lockdown.
The move has the approval of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
This will be reviewed one month after Sunday Mass celebrations can resume.
Priests experiencing any particular difficulty in their personal financial situation have been told to contact the moderator of the curia in the Archdiocese of Dublin or the new episcopal vicar for clergy.
In his letter, Fr Taylor “strongly” urges priests to contact their parishioners and outline “the collapse in the available funding to support their priests”. He suggested that they should also appeal to parishioners to contribute to the Easter dues.
The committee has also advised priests to attach a "donate" facility to their parish website as soon as possible.
“Facilitating ‘cashless giving’ is not only safer and healthier, it allows what is generously given by the people to be credited to them, and enhances the tax back opportunity for the parish,” the letter states.
Speaking to the Tablet, Fr Taylor explained that Christmas and Easter dues generate one third of the Common Fund’s revenue, which pays priests salaries as well as funding the diocese’s sick and elderly priests in nursing homes.
The salary of a curate in the Archdiocese of Dublin begins at €23,000. A 25 per cent cut will pare that back to €17,250 pro rata. According to Fr Taylor, the 2009 recession saw priests in the diocese take a 20 per cent cut in their income and this was never been restored.
Priests, he said, are experiencing the “fragility and uncertainty” of the present crisis.
Churches in the Republic of Ireland are due to reopen for public worship on 20 July, but the numbers will be tightly restricted and so there won’t be a return to the pre-March attendance levels for a long time.
The Tablet understands that the pay cut is intended to carry remuneration for Dublin priests through to September, though it may be December before the pay cut is reversed.
“I recognise that ‘Alleluia’ may not be the first sentiment that comes to your lips as you read this letter!” Fr Taylor admits. “It is certainly not a joy to have to communicate these difficult decisions to you. So many families and individuals throughout our land and around the world are in even worse situations because of this pandemic,” he said.
Other dioceses are likely to introduce similar measures to offset their drop in funding.
Speaking to the Digital Parish, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said: “As many people will appreciate, the suspension of Sunday Mass has also meant the suspension of operational income for our parishes and for the diocese.”
Bishop Doran said he had been encouraged by the number of people who had asked how they could make a contribution.
He added that “online engagement” was something the parishes of Elphin were exploring and the diocese had introduced a donations portal on its website, which he admitted they probably should have done years ago. "As a one young woman said to me, people of my age never carry cash anyway.”