English Catholic bishop: parishes see 'dramatic fall' in income following lockdown

Bishop reopens Cathedral 1 a Bishop Mark Davies reopens Shrewsbury Cathedral to the public after 86 days of lockdown June 15, 2020. | Shrewsbury diocese.

An English bishop has said that parishes have seen "dramatic fall" in income as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury urged the government to step in to help dioceses struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. 

"The weeks of the national lockdown saw a dramatic fall of about a third in parish income. This is having a serious impact on the operation of parishes," he told CNA. 

Mike Kane, a local Member of Parliament, raised the financial plight of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, in western England, in the House of Commons last month. 

He noted June 25 that the diocese's income was down by a third since the government announced a nationwide lockdown March 23. He said that this loss of around $875,000 would have a long-term impact on the diocese's ability to maintain its buildings.

Kane, the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, urged the government to consider introducing an "enhanced gift aid scheme" to shore up diocesan finances.

In his comments to CNA, Davies said that he was grateful to Kane for raising the issue in Parliament.

He said: "We have been working to mitigate the impact at parish level and are grateful for parishioners who were able to continue giving support via online giving through the crisis otherwise the situation would be even more serious."

"The Shrewsbury Diocese will be looking at what savings are possible by reducing costs or deferring expenditure. This sadly means that the largest outgoings in parishes on planned repairs and maintenance will be an area where savings will be sought." 

The bishop said he was also concerned that building works would be more expensive than they were before the coronavirus crisis because "contractors have to pass on costs to allow them to operate within the bounds of COVID security."

He echoed Kane's call for changes to the Gift Aid scheme, which increases the value of donations by 25% by permitting charities to reclaim the basic rate tax already paid by the donor.

Davies said: "In 2008 there was a transitional relief scheme for Gift Aid to support charities when the income tax rate reduced from 22% to 20%, worth an estimated £100 million to charities at that time. A similar kind of enhanced arrangement is now needed to support charities, including dioceses across the country."

"As this has already been an operational scheme, the mechanism for the delivery following lockdown should be feasible and easy for the government to put in place quickly."

The U.K., which has a population of almost 67 million, has recorded 44,305 deaths from the virus as of July 6, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center -- the world's third highest reported death toll after that of the United States and Brazil.

Catholic churches in England were permitted to reopen for individual, private prayer June 15. Public Masses resumed July 4, with stringent safety measures to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

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