Tuesday 26 March 2024

Charity Commission looking into Portsmouth finances

The financial management of the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth is under investigation by the Charity Commission.

As the diocese is a registered charity, the Commission has responsibility to see that its affairs are in good order. 

According to a Charity Commission spokeswoman: “We can confirm that we have opened a regulatory compliance case to examine concerns about the financial management of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth.”

The investigation follows a tough time for the diocese which suffered a downturn in Mass attendance and financial contributions during the pandemic. 

In 2022, its total income was £14.5 million – although this was up on 2021 when it was £14.2m – but was significantly less than its £14.8 million spending.

With Mass attendance at just 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the diocese received £6.8 million in giving but this is equivalent to only £4.20 a week per parishioner and was not enough to cover all costs. 

Maintaining the churches and other buildings was a significant strain on resources, for example, and repairs and maintenance took up £2.24 million.

Parishes were so hard hit by a drop in giving that the diocese’s accounts for 2022 showed that 28 parishes were in deficit by a total of £622,000 and were having to use up their reserves.

In its annual report and accounts for 2022, Portsmouth’s bishop, Philip Egan, reported that its 87 parishes would be reconfigured into 24 pastoral areas that would eventually become single integrated parishes. 

Bishop Egan wrote that he wanted to develop missionary communities and this change would “release the resources” – in other words, save considerable costs.

Bishop Egan and the diocesan trustees have also agreed to dispose of surplus assets as part of its financial recovery programme. 

However, although the diocese has £91 million in assets, dealing with its £10 million liabilities is proving difficult because almost £81 million of those assets is bound up in church buildings and restricted funds.

Portsmouth diocese declined to comment on the Charity Commission investigation. Its spokesman, Alasdair Akass, said: “It is not the charity’s policy to comment on our engagements, if any, with the Charity Commission as our regulator.”

Some of Portsmouth’s parishes have struggled to make ends meet, he said, “having been severely impacted by the effects and aftermath of the pandemic”. 

However, said Akass, “in the last year we have seen the position stabilise and some communities are beginning to grow again”.

This turnaround, he said, would be seen in the next set of accounts which would show a surplus, while Bishop Egan had outlined in a recent pastoral letter that the mission plan, outlining the new missionary communities, would be “centred on Jesus Christ”.