30 June 2020, The Tablet

Colombian church 'bankrupt by August'

Collection money normally amounts to around 90 per cent of parish funds in Colombia

Colombian church 'bankrupt by August'

A person praying in front of a church in Bogota, Colombia, May 15, 2020.
Daniel Garzon Herazo/NurPhoto/PA Images

The Church in Colombia expects to go bankrupt by August, according to a senior archbishop there. The Church’s looming financial crisis is a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak in Colombia, which has caused chaos in the country’s healthcare system. 

Luis José Rueda, Archbishop of Bogota, stated that “three months of zero income and 100 per cent of expenses” was going to cause the “explosion” of diocesan finances. Although some bishops, according to Rueda, were trying to fundraise amongst wealthy parishes to avoid bankruptcy, the Church’s problems are compounded by the economic crisis sweeping the Latin American nation. The International Monetary Fund last Friday, 26 June lowered Colombia’s economic growth projection for this year to -7.8 per cent from April’s figure of  -2.4 per cent. This would be the worst crash in the modern history of Colombia. 

The potential collapse of the Church in Colombia has serious social consequences for the poor of that country. Colombia’s estimated 5,000 churches sustain 50,000 to 80,000 charitable initiatives and social institutions, ranging from soup kitchens to schools and care homes. 

The Colombian Church doesn’t receive any financial support from the state, leaving it reliant on collections at Mass, which has been suspended since March 15 this year.  With 90 per cent of parish income cut off, dioceses have been using savings and liquid assets to pay debts and wages, but these, according to Archbishop Rueda, are likely to run out in the near future. 

In an interview with the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, Archbishop Rueda emphasised that he did not support the resumption of Mass, but that Church organisations will likely cease to pay salaries in August if the situation has not changed by then.  There have been 77,000 positive cases of coronavirus in Colombia and 2,491 deaths so far in the pandemic, but the numbers of those infected are continuing to grow.

The Bishop of Quibdó in Colombia has raised the alarm over the precarious state of the Colombian healthcare system, which he claimed was "collapsing". The Bishop also criticised those who broke lockdown restrictions for the further spread of the virus in his region, Chocó. He joins an array of Church figures currently appealing for international support to be sent to Colombia, given the economic disruption and social problems the pandemic has caused there.

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