Senior Anglican cleric feels church has ‘stonewalled’ on bishop costs

Canon Ian Ellis
Canon Ian Ellis

A leading figure in the Church of Ireland (CoI) has accused church authorities of “stonewalling” over the cost of a bishops’ weekend residential meeting at a luxury golf resort near Dublin.

In November 2016, the CoI bishops spent the weekend at the Portmarnock Hotel and golf complex – but it is not clear what was discussed, or how much the trip cost.

Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette (which is independent of the church itself), said there had been a failure to provide “basic information” about the church’s episcopal (bishop) costs in general, and the expense involved in the Dublin trip in particular.

There are 12 bishops in the CoI, and over the last eight months Canon Ellis said he has pressed the church authorities about the number of bishops the church has and the cost involved.

In a report to last year’s General Synod in May the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures (CEMS) indicated the current annual cost of the episcopate (two archbishops and 10 bishops)is “close to €2m”.

But he said there is no detailed breakdown of those costs, or details about the Dublin trip – except that the church said it was to discuss issues “of mutual concern to the archbishops and bishops”.

Canon Ellis said: “It is very disappointing that the CoI authorities will not provide basic information as requested on how the church’s resources are used in relation to bishops’ costs.”

The magazine editor said his attempts to encourage a greater degree of transparency around “financial accountability” had been “stonewalled”.

He added: “Many parishioners give generously and sacrificially to the church and I think all who donate deserve prompt and full answers to reasonable enquiries, as do journalists who are seeking to report responsibly on church affairs.”

The CoI told the News Letter: “The Archbishops and Bishops hold one or two residential meetings per year to discuss the business of the House of Bishops and other matters which are of mutual concern to them.

“The venue at Portmarnock was chosen due to its central location and costs were taken into account. Episcopal costs fall within an approved budget.

“The CoI publishes a summary of episcopal costs in its annual Book of Reports.

“The Representative Church Body report, in which those costs are outlined, is subject to a full debate at the General Synod.

“Central Church finances are also examined in the course of the year by the Standing Committee of the General Synod and the committees of the Representative Church Body.

“The Representative Church Body is the trustee for the CoI.”