Bishops: for refugees, donate time, money, prayer and hospitality

Logo BisschoppenconferentieThe Dutch bishops, meeting last weekend, perhaps unsurprisingly, decided to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer aid to refugees. They are following the example of bishops in Germany and other countries, and a decision on this topic had been forthcoming. I already came across grumblings that the bishops as a whole were keeping rather quiet about refugees and their plight. Only Bishops Gerard de Korte and Jos Punt had shared their thoughts on the websites of their dioceses. More on that in a later post.

They urge faithful to open their hearts: “We stimulate faithful to sign up for volunteers’ work at, for example, refugee centres, where there is often a need among refugees for a Dutch “buddy”, who can help finding the way at Dutch government agencies. It can also, for example, have great value for Christian refugees to be accompanied by a Dutch Christian.” The bishops also mention that there are other ways of helping, not least by way of displays of hospitality.

When it comes to donating goods, the bishops defer to professional aid agencies in indicating what is needed. They want to enter into discussions on short notice with these organisations to map out what is needed to shelter a family or group of refugees in faith communities.

On 20 September, there will be a collection in parishes. Funds collected will go to refugee aid and shelter.

A more expansive statement on the refugee crisis and its various aspects is forthcoming. In the meantime, the bishops ask for prayer, in addition to the aforementioned donations of time, money and Christian charity.

Dwindling numbers, with a glimmer of hope

Kerkbalans-2012A few days ago the financial numbers over the 2011 Kerkbalans were published. Kerkbalans is the overall campaign taking care of the financing of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, as well as several Protestant church communities. It supports the local parish initiatives of raising money, as the state nor the diocese in question does so. The money raised by the parishes goes to support their own activities, the salaries of priests, deacons, pastoral workers and others, the maintenance of buildings and contributions to the diocese. Kerkbalans makes up the bulk of this, while the remainder is made of money raised by possessions and investments.

The total income of the parishes has dropped 3%, compared with 2010, to a total of some 164 million euros (218.8 USD). The parishes expended some 179 million euros (238.8 USD), a drop of 2%, but still an imbalance when compared to what came in. But a light on the horizon as that this is the first instance in years that expenditure dropped. Shortage has increased to more than 15 million euros (20 million USD).

Comparing the numbers per diocese, it is clear that the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, although the smallest of the seven Dutch dioceses, tops the list with the highest percentual Kerkbalans income: 52% of the total, some 3.5 million euros (4.7 million USD). But as far as collections go, it is in the bottom tier, with a mere 10%. The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch tops the list in exact numbers,, with a total income of 36 million euros (48 million USD), except when it comes to collections (topped by the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam with 4.5 million euros (6 million USD), and Kerkbalans (topped by the Archdiocese of Utrecht with 14.6 million euros (19.5 million USD). All these numbers are strictly the income of parishes.

When it comes to expenses, ‘s Hertogenbosch also leads that list, with 40 million euros (53.4 USD). Utrecht leads in te categories of personnel costs (15.4 million euros (20.5 million USD)) and the costs of services and pastoral care (4.5 million euros (6 million USD)).

There is an imbalance, then, which keeps growing, certainly where Kerkbalans is concerned. This is a serious issue, and most dioceses have paid attention to this, or are in the process of doing so. The most visible step is the merger of parishes and consolidation of assets of local communities. This is taking place in Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht, ‘s Hertogenbosch and Haarlem-Amsterdam. Another, more painful, choice for cutting costs is the slimming down of personnel numbers.

But in the end, income needs to be raised. It is perhaps a measure of how successful parishes are in engaging the faithful in their territory. The people are there (albeit in dwindling numbers), I think, but with fairly low numbers of frequent churchgoers (nowhere more than 7 or 8 % of the total number of Catholics), the money isn’t being raised when Kerkbalans and collections are only brought to people’s attention in the church or via church media such as parish magazines and websites.

With the publication of these numbers, Kerkbalans 2013 was also launched. It once again follows the renewed template launched in 2005, which intensified local efforts. Where these intensified efforts are put into practice, Kerkbalans reports, income increases. This is perhaps clearest in the Diocese of Roermond, where Kerkbalans income has remained at the same level as in 2010. Overall, some 41% of Catholic families contribute in some to Kerkbalans. This is the same percentage as in 2010, although the number of Catholics has dropped with 75,000. In total, there were 4,091,000 Catholics in the Netherlands in 2010, which means that each Catholic would contribute 14 euros (19 USD). Taking only the 41% who actually did, we see that every person contribute some 77 euros (102 USD) to Kerkbalans, which is a drop from 79 euros (105 USD) per person.