Catholic Church donations have plummeted in Dublin during the Covid-19 outbreak, falling by as much as 80 per cent.
The Dublin Archdiocese said the need to close churches had “resulted in very serious consequences” for its income stream.
A restructuring strategy to address “this urgent situation” is now under way to reduce costs, it said. This is expected to take some months to complete.
Two donation streams – the “common fund” collection for priests and the “support for share” fund – have dropped by 70 and 80 per cent respectively between March and June compared with the same period last year. Priests have agreed to a decrease of 25 per cent in their support, or personal income.
A voluntary redundancy scheme has also been extended to all staff members in the diocesan support services and to parish pastoral workers.
The archdiocese said it had the capacity to reduce staffing levels by a third, depending on the level of take-up, from the current number of 82 people.
“Each staff member is being offered support and advice mechanisms to guide staff members at this time, paid for by the diocese. The process is ongoing. Diocesan staff are in receipt of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.”
Separately, a spokesman for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said “lay and clerical pay has been reduced across the country, with lay redundancies also in play. This reduced pay/wages is expected to continue into 2021.”
Church attendances have been allowed to resume but on a limited basis.
On Friday, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin welcomed new guidance issued by the Government’s Cabinet committee regarding safe activity in places of worship and said parishes would work diligently to observe the “new norms”.
An assessment can be carried out for each premises to determine how many can attend while still maintaining social distancing. Face coverings are “strongly recommended”.
Archbishop Martin had previous said that the 50-person limit for each Mass “would mean turning many people away or having them remain outside”.
The new guidance states that where premises can safely allow for greater numbers, they should be subdivided into distinct sections of not more than 50 persons in each.
Each section would have its own entrance and exit with strictly no movement in between.
“Account must also be taken regarding the risk of congregation by people outside before and after any services, having regard to outdoor overall limits on mass gatherings and arrangements for staggered exiting after ceremonies,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Asked about the fall in church donations, Fr Tim Hazelwood of the Killeagh-Inch parish in east Cork and a member of the Association of Catholic Priests' leadership team, said the severity of the impact across Ireland would depend on a number of factors – whether parishes had financial reserves, were financing renovation works, or paying back loans.
“I suppose, like everyone else in business, we are going to be affected and so we are going to have to cut our cloth,” he said.
As services welcome back parishioners, the normal basket collection will be replaced by a box at the end of each church.
Centrally funded church programmes such as education, pre-marriage and social and family courses are also affected by a fall-off in localised donations.
Fr Hazelwood pointed out that it was not just churches themselves that had suffered but also charities such as St Vincent de Paul and Trócaire, which carried out collections there.