Church of Ireland bishops pressed over financial transparency

Rector of Comber Canon Jonathan Barry is seeking greater clarity around expenditure on bishops

Rector of Comber Canon Jonathan Barry is seeking greater clarity around expenditure on bishops

A senior clergyman has hit out at the Church of Ireland over its “indefensible” refusal to provide a detailed breakdown of expenditure on the church’s 12 bishops.

Canon Jonathan Barry made his scathing comments in relation to an ongoing campaign for greater transparency in how church funds are spent.

In the latest edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette (which is editorially independent of the church itself), Canon Barry describes a pre-Christmas trip by the bishops to the Portmarnock Hotel and golf complex near Dublin last year as a “jolly” – at a time when “clergy in the main hardly get time to breathe”.

Canon Barry, who is rector of Comber, said a number of questions on overall expenditure posed by the Gazette were “perfectly reasonable,” yet were not being answered by the bishops and the Representative Church Body (RCB).

The current annual cost of the episcopate (two archbishops and 10 bishops) is €1.7 million (£1.45m).

Some clergy have now questioned why a more detailed breakdown of those costs is not made public, or why further details about the Portmarnock trip have not been provided, other than a statement from the church to says its purpose was to discuss issues “of mutual concern to the archbishops and bishops”.

Commenting on claims the church is “stonewalling” attempts to improve transparency, Canon Barry said: “Parishes cannot go on being bled in terms of assessments by people who refuse to be transparent, refuse to give account and react obstructively when asked.”

Gazette editor Canon Ian Ellis said: “Canon Barry’s article drew on his considerable experience in the Church of Ireland over many years. His frankness, combined with his complete integrity, provided a reflection that was both refreshing and challenging.”

Canon Ellis added: “The Gazette’s investigation of bishops’ costs has centred on a series of questions that we sent to the Church authorities last July. The matter of the Portmarnock residential meeting in November was one more issue.

“However, it is very regrettable that the central Church has refused to answer the perfectly straightforward and appropriate questions that we have posed.”

A spokesman for the CoI said: “The Representative Church Body, which approves episcopal costs on behalf of the Church, is content that it is entirely reasonable for the bishops to hold residential meetings at certain times at a central location and is satisfied with the arrangements for the one held most recently at Portmarnock.

“Further details on governance arrangements and oversight of episcopal costs have been published in the statement to the Church of Ireland Gazette of 24/3/17.”

Church of Ireland statement on episcopal costs which was published in the CoI Gazette in March this year

Total actual Episcopal costs for the year ended 31 December 2016 are €1.7m and represents the gross cost of the Episcopacy in the twelve Dioceses of the Church of Ireland. Episcopal costs are met by sharing costs between the RCB and the Diocese, with the RCB paying approx 46% and the Diocese paying approx 54% of costs in 2016.

These costs include the following:

Stipend, pension, state insurance, travel & subsistence

Office & Secretarial

See House running costs

House of Bishops costs

Central administration costs

Regional Anglican meetings

Research

Details of Episcopal costs are included annually in the RCB book of reports within the sections “Allocation budget provided for the future year” and “Clergy Remuneration and Benefits”. Bishops are entitled to a stipend of 1.75 times the Minimum Approved Stipend with the Archbishop of Dublin entitled to a stipend of 2.25 and the Archbishop of Armagh entitled to 2.75.

Episcopal costs are budgeted annually by the RCB Finance Department and brought to the Stipends Committee, which is made up of 9 members (6 lay and 3 clergy). The Stipends Committee review the detailed budget, seek further analysis & clarification if required and make recommendations on cost adjustments as they see fit.

The Episcopal budget is then brought to the Executive Committee (a committee of 15 people including clergy and lay members) who review and approve the budget, which is submitted to the Allocations Committee, in October each year, together with all other requests for allocation for the next financial year.

The Allocations Committee is made up of five members (3 lay and 2 clergy), who review the detailed budgets and may seek further analysis, clarification and adjustments. The final budget for allocations are reviewed by the Executive Committee and approved by the RCB (composition).

Incorporated in the Episcopal budget are See House running costs, which include repairs, heating, maintenance & property insurance. Property maintenance and facilities are considered by the Property Committee, which is made up of 9 members (8 lay and 1 clergy), who make recommendations to the Executive Committee for approval, as necessary.

Other costs included in the Episcopal budget are approved by the Allocations Committee on an annual basis.

The majority of Episcopal costs are paid monthly by the RCB Finance Department, with some costs being managed locally.