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Calls for greater transparency on Church’s financial support for its bishops

By Alf McCreary

The Church of Ireland has been urged to apologise by one of its own rectors for allegedly "stonewalling" over revealing how much it costs to financially support bishops.

Canon Jonathan Barry, rector of Comber, accused the church of obstructing the independent Church of Ireland Gazette.

"Parishes cannot go on being financially bled in terms of assessments by people who refuse to be transparent, refuse to give account and react obstructively when asked," he said.

The Gazette raised the matter last July 27, but the Representative Church Body (RCB) did not reply to its questions until November.

In December, the Gazette asked the RCB about the costs and purpose of a residential meeting of Bishops in a Portmarnock, Co Dublin, hotel. It transpired that these costs had not been included in the earlier costs assessment.

A Commission for Episcopal Ministry was set up in 2012 to make recommendations about the future of the Bishops' ministry, but the commission told the General Synod - the church's governing body - that it was not a priority to provide a detailed analysis of financial issues.

The RCB told the Belfast Telegraph it was "content that it is entirely reasonable for the bishops to hold residential meetings, and is satisfied with the one held most recently at Portmarnock".

There are 12 Church of Ireland bishops, including the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin.

On March 24 the RCB told the Gazette that the total costs for bishops in 2016 was €1.7m. This included stipends, pensions, state insurance, travel and subsistence.

The RCB paid 46% and the 12 dioceses paid 54% of the costs.

The diocesan money is raised from parishioners' collection plate donations and other means.

The RCB said in its March 24 statement that episcopal costs were included in the church's book of reports, but the Gazette claimed its detailed questions had not been fully answered.

Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "Many parishioners give sacrificially to the Church.

"Straight questions deserve straight answers.

"I have encountered a brick wall, and the situation has gone on too long."

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