Bishop Brennan’s comments at the Diocesan Finance AGM
2 March 2009
Bishop Brennan’s comments at the Diocesan Finance AGM
Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford Monday 1st March 2009 at 7.30pm
Words of Bishop Denis Brennan (Ferns)
“The Diocese of Ferns has been on a road involving the settlement of claims for 15 years now. It has been very much a team effort – various administrations and personnel, local diocesan and national church funding and from the picture as it exists today, up to 80% of the road of justice has been traveled. As we look to complete this road, it will be necessary to invite the parishes to become part of the process financially. Funding sought is not about sharing the blame, it is about asking for help to fulfill a God given responsibility. “That I did not cause the problem” is not the response of the Christian, “that I would like to help in the work of justice, healing, reconciliation, a safer environment for children in the future, proper financial stewardship and overall good economic health” is. I would be grateful for whatever ways you might be able to help me and the diocese to complete a road on which it has been necessary to travel, a road that will hopefully go beyond the requirements of justice and grow in terms of the reconciliation with which we are currently engaged and may be further permitted, or invited, in the future…”.
When we met for last year’s Diocesan Finance AGM, the clouds had already gathered economically in Ireland – and abroad – and fears of an economic downturn that would affect the daily lives of our people were palpable. Such a downturn and the realization of these fears have since occurred and the financial circumstances of many of our people have now been changed in ways that are all too present – unemployment, cutbacks and the dawning awareness that no ‘quick fixes” are imminent – these are the realities that all too many, now have to face.
At that meeting last year, I suggested a threefold response that we – as a Church – would need to articulate:
- “Do not be afraid” – the words of Jesus that we need to apply to all aspects of our lives – economic difficulties as much as everything else.
- “Be mindful of our neighbours” – the need to be aware of a response that is mindful of those about us, people who are being tested as they seek to manage their revised circumstances.
- “Let us openly prioritise our needs, not our wants” – an approach that looks at the needs of those on the margins with a close eye to education and health as the most important areas.
Again, I would ask that these three messages be something we continue to preach on Sundays. As members of parish groups and committees, we must seek to discern and promote “the collective” as opposed to “the purely individual” and to have an eye to the most vulnerable, in all that is proposed.
In the year ahead, let us resolve to engage on this issue as best we can. The Gospel values of human dignity, respect, outreach, care for the poor and inclusion of those on the margins, have much to say to where we find ourselves currently, and where we can and do need to go to, from here.
The diocese is blessed with a model of financial administration that is second to none.
Finances are managed by a committee headed by Mr. Eugene Doyle (Diocesan Finance Officer) and Mr. Liam Gaynor (Accountant). This committee – composed of lay people and priests – meets regularly as a full group and on a micro level every Thursday morning, in Summerhill where I and the administrative staff in Summerhill attend.
Your monies are managed professionally, astutely, efficiently and with great transparency. For this, I am grateful – the system we have is a great back up to me, and for this, I would like to say thanks.
I would like also to thank the many people who contribute faithfully – week in and week out – to the upkeep of parishes and priests – and indirectly to the local diocesan, national and universal church. Your faithfulness in generosity and attendance at church – is greatly appreciated.
The diocese strives to exercise to the best of our ability the trust you put in us – and to deliver cost effective and ever evolving service.
As always, my contribution at these gatherings is not to act as economist or accountant – such are the gifts of the lay members of our church, you who serve on finance committees. My task is to situate your very necessary work within the context of the wider picture of the diocese – the various activities that are made possible through wise and prudent management of resources.
Again, I have received a great welcome wherever I have been over the past year. At confirmations, funerals, blessings or social gatherings – the highest of standards operates on a day to day level – and this is only made possible through the very dedicated lay / religious and priestly partnership that exists in the parishes of the diocese. A lot of things are working and working well – and challenges aside – it is important that we would see this as the main subject on that canvas we call diocese, as we set about commencing another administrative year.
I would like to say a word of thanks to the 768 people who serve on the Boards of Management of our primary schools. Huge levels of work are achieved each day in our schools – and gratitude is expressed to all who make this happen – teachers, ancillary staff, parents’ councils and boards.
Sunday Mass does not just occur – behind these gatherings are members of parish and pastoral councils, finance councils, sacristans, altar servers and societies, readers, Eucharistic ministers, collectors, ushers, grounds people, choirs and musicians. In all we hear of Church, we should remember the army of quiet and effective volunteers who do their duties diligently and for no personal reward, save the enhancement of their spiritual lives, from which their initial generosity springs.
Everyday, priests and people working on a day to day level serving the needs of the local parish. Funerals, weddings, patrons,– the very stuff of daily catholic life. The same happens in schools – from beginning to end of year Masses, prize giving and other award ceremonies – to day to day chaplaincy and work of our catechists – and all that is done quietly and surely. A lot of great work occurs in our schools and in our parishes – may God continue to guide it.
I would like to say a word of welcome home to Fr. Sean Devereux who has completed 10 years of service in the Gambia. His recent return was necessitated by poor health – we wish him every blessing as he journeys to recovery. Fr. Denis Browne continues to minister in Brazil – in the remotest of quarters as he completes his second term. And then there is Fr. Mal Sinnott – a symbol of the many religious from the diocese who serve abroad in situations of grave personal danger. His recent ordeal highlighted many things – two in particular – generosity of spirit and the legacy we take, all too lightly perhaps, of having given the best of our people to those in the greatest need throughout the world.
World Youth Day 2011 now beckons – and the team will be back on the campaign trail in the coming weeks and months preparing for Madrid 2011.
Book launches and parish publications
School extensions and renovations – Poulpeasty, Coolcotts, Murrintown, Curracloe, Blackwater, Ballythomas, Ballyroebuck, Ballyoughter and Loreto, Gorey. Church renovations in Mayglass, 150th celebrations in Rathnure and Cloughbawn, 100 year celebrations in Oulart, and the great renovation work carried out by the sisters of St. John of God at Ballyvalloo which reopened its doors to us all last October.
Diamond, golden, ruby and silver jubilees over the past year – not to mention what we will celebrate in the coming year – Monsignor Corish is 65 years a priest, Canon S.S. de Bhál is 60 years, we have 5 Golden Jubliarians – Frs. Jim Byrne, Tom Eustace, John French, Seamus Larkin and Fr. Jim Lennon. Yours truly is 40 years a priest this year and Fr. Tommy Brennan celebrates his silver jubilee.
Bene Merenti awards in the parishes of Kilrush, Cushinstown, Riverchapel, Gorey, St. Senan’s and Carnew.
Advances in the area of Safeguarding Children through the good offices of our now 73 safeguarding parish representatives.
Day to day administrative meetings at Summerhill – where the best course of action is discerned by very committed laypeople and clergy – for the people and priests of the diocese.
I would like also to say a word of gratitude to Monsignor Kehoe who retired last August and to say a word of congratulations to our new Vicar General, Fr. Joe McGrath and our new Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Denis Lennon and extend to them every good wish in their new roles. Gratitude is also extended to Fr. John Sweetman who has undertaken the role of Vicar Forane for Gorey. With Fr. Paddy Cushen, Vicar Forane for Enniscorthy, much time and thought is given to the day to day life of the diocese by the Vicars at our regular meetings and for that I am very grateful.
This is just a small bit of all that is going on, I could mention much more – but from this small snapshot, you get an idea of how rich and vibrant the diocese is. From what we have, we need to build to face the new challenges of today.
Diocesan services continue to give of their best and I would like to say a word of thanks here also, to:
The Ferns Diocesan Centre and the Education Secretariat – Sr. Anna, Fr. Frank Murphy and Fr. John Paul Sheridan. I warmly welcome the new team of recently retired teachers who give of their time and talent in the visitation of primary schools.
Diocesan Pilgrimages – Fr. Brendan Nolan (O.L.I.), Fr. Richard Lawless, Fr. Oliver Sweeney and Fr. Tommy Doyle and to the teams of people who make pilgrimages possible – and successful. And also our many priests and people involved in the Irish Pilgrimage Trust.
The diocesan property committee – headed by Mr. Bernard Doyle.
Family Life Services (ACCORD / CURA / BEREAVEMENT / TRAVELLERS / COUNSELLING) – now managed by Ms. Theresa Hanrahan and overseen by a Board chaired by Fr. Jim Fegan.
Christian Media Trust people – now heading for their 21st birthday – the Trust has produced 4.25 hrs programmes for local radio faithfully each week – and all the result of voluntary effort.
Not forgetting also those who serve on retreat teams, the ecumenical committee, St Aidan’s Trust, St. Ibar’s Trust, History and Archives, Retirement and Sick Priests’ Funds, Pontifical Missions, Vocations, Liturgy under John Woodbyrne, Emigrants and Newcomers, Marriage Tribunal and Diocesan Administration.
These diocesan groups provide services to and for parishes, services that parishes cannot provide – or which make financial sense for individual parishes not to provide – for themselves. The monies you send to the Central Fund are used to fund these services and they are provided in a cost effective and professional manner. To all I say thank you.
With regard to finances, there are a few points that have been made before, but which deserve restating:
Your money – for the most part (80%) remains within your parish – and it is managed locally by yourselves.
What comes to the diocese – and which has been outlined tonight – is well managed and helps us to achieve the break even (this year surpus) situation, we achieve almost annually.
The funding of claims associated with child abuse as perpetrated by some members of the clergy continues to impact on the diocese financially. The issue continues to receive priority attention and I am glad to report continued progress.
The number of settlements made to date is 48. These have cost €8,120,7075, of which €2,138,692 were legal fees.
There are 13 civil actions pending.
The diocese has also paid €2,121,478 in legal fees, which arose from its co-operation with the Berminghman and Ferns Inquiries. €650,000 was recovered from a contribution made by the government. Treatment of offenders has amounted to €836,000, an investment in child protection in the long term. The diocese would like to record its deep gratitude to the other dioceses in Ireland for the very tangible support they have shown in their assistance in the funding of claims through the Stewardship Trust.
I would like to make a few observations on this matter:
This particular tragedy is not viewed by the diocese as a problem to be solved. More accurately, people who suffered abuse are not the cause of our problems: the actions of individual perpetrators, along with mismanagement, poor understanding and/or lack of resolve – are. In the light of the Gospel, what has emerged into the open is rightly seen as “the calling of our time” – and those who have suffered are rightly seen as having first call on our attention. We are asked to address child sexual abuse as pastors and to respond in the manner of the Master, and nobody less.
Any road to healing and reconciliation is only possible to the degree that it is preceded by openness, justice and truthfulness. The settlements made to date are necessary and represent the diocese’s desire to take responsibility for hurts caused, hurts which date back several generations – as far back as the 1940’s in cases. It is our duty to make good the bad, to recognize the enormity of what was stolen and to do it as Christ who reaches out.
The damage done in some cases to the person’s “believing relationship” or his / her “ability to trust and believe” is often the most profound damage of all. This is something about which we hear more and more. Consideration of how we might be available to its repair, is something to which we must give grave and ongoing attention.
The diocese is at various points on the road with individual victims and survivors: some wish to have no further dealings with us and this we respect; some view us as representing or defensive of those who damaged them; some stay in contact; and some engage with us in the search for healing and reconciliation. It is our duty to respect that place where each survivor and victim finds himself and herself on that painful path, and to be present, as requested, on the terms and according to the wishes of people whose autonomy is paramount. Many have struggled hard to regain this autonomy, it is vital that this not be damaged any further. The continuation along a path where we have been the students for the most part – not the teachers – is something we need to complete with humility, openness and a desire for the genuine good of those hurt.
The diocese has a very open policy on this matter – it shares all information with the Gardai, the HSE, its own advisory panel and with the Holy See. All recommendations or directives received from these groups has been accepted and implemented.
The Diocese of Ferns has been on a road involving the settlement of claims for 15 years now. It has been very much a team effort – various administrations and personnel, local diocesan and national church funding and from the picture as it exists today, up to 80% of the road of justice has been traveled. As we look to complete this road, it will be necessary to invite the parishes to become part of the process financially. Funding sought is not about sharing the blame, it is about asking for help to fulfill a God given responsibility. “That I did not cause the problem” is not the response of the Christian, “that I would like to help in the work of justice, healing, reconciliation, a safer environment for children in the future, proper financial stewardship and overall good economic health” is. I would be grateful for whatever ways you might be able to help me and the diocese to complete a road on which it has been necessary to travel, a road that will hopefully go beyond the requirements of justice and grow in terms of the reconciliation with which we are currently engaged and may be further permitted, or invited, in the future.