Holy Cross College, Dublin

What’s the Irish Church doing with its real estate holdings?

The Irish Catholic Church is selling off its real estate holdings to provide compensation to abuse victims, to increase offers of social housing, and to change the shape of ministry in a more and more secular society.

Driving the news

The Financial Times revealed that the Archdiocese of Dublin is selling off the diocesan Holy Cross College, which due to a decline in vocations stopped forming young men for the priesthood some twenty years ago.

Citing sources close to the deal, the FT said the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has paid the Church 95 million euros for the historic building and adjoining lands.

“The transaction has been approved by the Vatican and the charities regulator”, said a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

According to the FT, the GAA will work with US property developer Hines to build up to 1,200 apartments, sports facilities, a hotel and commercial units on the site.

The diocese said the site will provide “social, affordable and private housing”.

Ireland is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, with the market “unbelievably difficult” for migrants especially, according to Danielle McLaughlin, a policy officer for homeless Catholic charity Crosscare.

“We have huge numbers [of migrants] coming to us with notices to quit. They are more susceptible to exploitation or not knowing their rights”, McLaughlin said.

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The big picture

But the Holy Cross sale is just one of the property deals Irish Church organisations have entered into in recent months, seeking to cushion its declining impact on society with financial payoffs.

The FT quotes some figures on the amounts several Church congregations stand to receive from property sales around Dublin:

  • Jesuits: 55 million euros
  • Carmelites: 35 million
  • Spiritans: 20 million
  • Order of St. Augustine: 18 million

Property experts predict that more and more Church bodies will bring properties to market in the next six months.

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Go deeper

But why are Irish Catholic organisations selling off their properties now?

Apart from the housing crisis, another important reason is the need to fund redress programs for victims of abuse in Church-run institutions.

According to the Irish education ministry, the Irish Church has so far paid off 124.9 million euros of the 128 million it promised to deliver as part of a 2002 agreement on providing compensation to abuse victims.

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In 2009, the Church entered into another agreement to pay 353 million euros, an amount that was later revised down to 226 million.

The Church has so far paid 106.44 million of that number, though a ministry spokesman said some Church properties transferred to the State have yet to be valued, and the real figure could be higher.

But housing and compensation are not the only reasons for the property sell-offs.

Another is the need to downsize a Church battling with irrelevance and the aging profile of its priests, nuns and brothers.

The Dublin archdiocese said it plans to use the proceeds from the Holy Cross College sale to reinvest in “people-led pastoral programmes” and other “different forms of ministry”.

“The nature of large-scale institutions has changed”, Sr. Liz Murphy, secretary-general of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland, told the FT.

“You’ll find us now living in housing estates in the middle of communities and in smaller groupings”.

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