Peterborough Bishop William McGrattan, right, credits his predecessor, Bishop-emeritus Nicola De Angelis, with getting the diocese’s debt under control. The $14-million debt will be eliminated in the spring. Register file photos.

Peterborough tackles its crippling debt

By 
  • September 4, 2015

After 12 years of belt tightening, the Diocese of Peterborough is poised to pay off a near-crippling $14-million debt.

Bishop William McGrattan said the diocese will have paid off the debt by April 2016, and said it is “a remarkable story of solidarity, generosity, sacrifice, prudent financial management and the trust that for a short while (the diocese) has to forego certain pastoral priorities.”

McGrattan said it has been a long road and he gives most of the credit to his predecessor, Bishop-emeritus Nicola De Angelis, “who did not shirk his responsibility in addressing the enormous challenge,” he said in a statement to the diocese.

McGrattan also thanked David Gray and the diocesan finance committee for their work to be “extremely prudent” in handling the mortgage debt repayment.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment and there should be,” said Deb McRae, financial administrator. “It was a well-thought out, well-planned debt-reduction scheme that has finally come into fruition.”

The finance committee has been working on the diocese’s debt since De Angelis’ appointment as bishop of the diocese in 2003. When De Angelis arrived in Peterborough, the diocese had accumulated almost $14 million in mortgage debt from various capital assets and property it owned. Within the first three years, almost $10 million was eliminated by selling some of that property and reorganizing some assets into more strategic investing ventures.

Over the years, the diocese has also received almost $2.3 million in donations from other dioceses in Ontario, religious communities and individual benefactors. Special collections that were held in parishes every year since 2007 also contributed to paying $1.3 million of the debt.

“It’s not an issue that we’ve all of a sudden come in to all kinds of money,” said McRae. “It has happened over years and years and years of hard work.”

Because the diocese was focused on working off the debt, the renovations and functionality updates of the chancery office itself have been put on hold. The diocese’s IT upgrades and web site upgrades also had to wait. There were several new programs that the bishop wanted to institute, but there just wasn’t the funds for them.

However, McRae adds that while the debt delayed several chancery projects, the financial committee worked hard so that the debt did not affect the overall operation of the diocese. Peterborough parishes had to be very prudent in how they spent their money in upgrades and maintenance, but no churches were closed because of the debt. Other diocesan funds, such as the Priest Benefit Fund, were also unaffected. In fact, the retirement fund saw a steady growth over the last 12 years.

“We realized that there was an enormous road ahead but if we did not reduce the debt, the diocese would not recoup or function,” said McRae.

“Thankfully, our benefactors and community came out and recognized that we would possibly not be here as a diocese if that was not taken care of.”

There is only about $600,000 left in outstanding debt. The last of the diocese’s special debt collections occurred in July and August. However, McGrattan emphasizes that this does not mean that the diocese will no longer be asking parishes for collections for new programs and projects in the future.

“The diocese needs to be committed to good stewardship and to discern where any new financial resources can be directed to the support of our parishes, funding new directions of pastoral outreach and strengthening the administrative resources of the diocese,” said McGrattan in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

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