With donations and collections forming the bulk of the Maltese Catholic Church income, the organisation has a hard task ahead to come out of the red as people become less religious, according to a business analyst.

We live in a free country but children are hardly free to choose a religious vocation

John Cassar White said the Church now depended more on its ability to raise funds, contrary to what happened in the past when it could rely primarily on donations and money bequeathed to it by individuals when they died.

“This poses a challenge because people donate to those organisations they can empathise with,” he said.

On Monday, the Church published its financial report showing a deficit of €1.7 million for 2010, more than double the deficit registered a year before.

Income from collections and donations accounted for almost €9 million and although this represented a drop of just over half a million euros from the previous year it still formed the biggest source of income.

Mr Cassar White suggested that the Church had to instil empathy in its members and project itself as an organisation that needed their support. “This is not an easy task as people are becoming less religious.”

A community growing less religious also means fewer people are entering the priesthood or becoming members of religious orders. The report identifies this as a problem since the Church is increasingly relying on lay people to fill the gaps in its institutions with an ever rising salary bill.

The financial statements show that salaries of lay employees cost the Church €10.3 million in 2010, an increase of €200,000 over the previous year.

According to Fr Michael Bellizzi, who heads the Church’s Inter-Diocesan Council for Vocations, the problem is expected to worsen in the coming years given the age of many priests and religious.

Fr Bellizzi attributes the lack of vocations to a changing society where families are having fewer children. He said parents were planning their children’s lives and religious vocations were not part of those plans.

“We live in a free country but children are hardly free to choose a religious vocation it seems,” Fr Bellizzi said.

The situation was worse among some of the female religious orders, he added, where the youngest nun could be 60 years old.

“Over the past few years we have had between five and six people every year joining the seminary. Some of the male religious communities have also experienced similar intakes but the situation is much worse in female religious communities.”

However, Fr Bellizzi said it was positive that those who took up a vocation went on to finish their studies as they were better prepared for the “job”.

Whether Fr Bellizzi’s positivity is of any consolation to the Church’s accountants is another matter altogether.

Although the Church managed to reduce operational costs by almost €1 million it was still not enough to balance the books.

Church officials have said the organisation has started dipping into its capital assets after its reserve funds evaporated. A team of experts is being consulted to see how the Church can keep providing the services it offers.

And this is a crucial aspect, according to Mr Cassar White, because the implications of the Church going bust will resonate on the rest of society.

“The Church runs institutions of social importance such as schools and if lack of income threatens their existence the implications will not only be felt by the Church but also by society,” he said.

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