Church’s asset portfolio included 10,700 properties

AT its height, the Catholic Church in Ireland owned or occupied more than 10,700 properties across the country and controlled nearly 6,700 religious and educational sites.

The asset portfolio included schools, houses, halls, churches, convents, parks, sports fields, hospitals, farms, warehouses, shops and tracts of land.

This left a complex and restricted asset portfolio which cash-strapped dioceses, parishes and religious orders have had difficulty tapping into as they seek to adapt a number of difficulties facing the Church.

An investigation by the Irish Examiner looked at over 1.5 million individual property parcels in all counties excluding Dublin. This included a historical analysis of the relevant owners and leaseholders.

It revealed:

*At one point, one in every 100 rateable properties in the state was linked to the Catholic Church.

*The largest class of owners within this portfolio were individual priests rather than parish or diocesan bodies.

*20% of all Church properties were listed as houses.

*Despite selling over €667 million worth of land in the last 10 years, the 18 religious orders covered under the redress scheme retained much of their historical portfolio.

The information was gleaned from records in use up to the end of the 1970s, when homeowners still paid rates. This was supplemented with up-to-date data on commercial premises. The analysis was only possible through the recent computerisation of the Valuation Office.

The historical spreadsheet showed 56% of the Church’s property, which was not held by religious orders, was owned by individual priests.

The Catholic Communications Office said that parishes and dioceses were preparing registers of assets to meet industry standards. The majority of dioceses were transferring properties under the scope of general trusts.

Where properties were in another name, it said, they were held in trust for dioceses who would manage them into the future.

“As the number of priests working in parishes declines, some parish properties become vacant. Normally, their use is then determined by the bishop, the diocesan trust and the parish pastoral council.”

On top of sites listed in the name of dioceses, orders, parishes or specific priests, there were 2,080 churches or chapels where it was unclear if the owners were Catholic. This excluded over 400 places of worship held by other faiths.

There were also 2,600 primary schools where the owner was not obvious.

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