For the first time in its I 17-year history the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is to publish its accounts, Bishop Hugh Lindsay announced this week.
The 1977 accounts, which will be ready later this year, show that the diocese is in a sound financial position, and Bishop Lindsay praised the financial system "which has served us so well."
The diocese is not in debt, and has not had to borrow from outside the diocese to meet its needs. In 1974, parishes in the diocese were £1,900,000 in debt, largely due to extensive school and church building programmes in the 1960s. But these debts have been contained because parishes with money in hand have lent, through the diocese, at low interest rates to other parishes with heavy financial commitments.
Investments, property and money left to the diocese have also been used to help the parishes. Borrowing parishes have been charged no interest at all for loans on school building and only 3+ per cent interest on other loans. If parishes had had to borrow from commercial sources loans on schools alone would have totalled £3,000,000.
In 1974, parishes had lent about £1,700,000 to help borrowing parishes and the diocese had lent in the region of £216,000 free of interest. School loans at that time totalled approximately £1,100,000 and church loans about £800,000.
In 1976, parishes which had lent money at low interest rates were even given a 2 per cent bonus because of an increase in parish deposits, very high commercial interest rates and a large cut in public building programmes.
As the demand for new buildings has declined the need for parishes to borrow has been reduced and many parishes have been paying off their debts. Increased school grants from the Department of Education and Science have reduced bills and the amount of tax reclaimed from parishioners' covenants has increased.
Tax reclaimed from these covenants has grown from £60,431 in 1973 to an estimated £200,000 in 1977, all of which means that debts will be repaid more quickly and fewer new loans taken out.
"I hope our publication of central diocesan accounts will help the priests, religious and lay people to understand better how the church's work in the diocese is financially supported,said Bishop Lindsay.
Bishop Lindsay also receives annual accounts from each parish in the diocese, but these are not to be published.