As discussed in last year’s report, the strategy continues to be one of meeting our commitments while at the same time making better use of church assets. This means ensuring that church property is being put to good use and not only provides a financial return but most importantly a mission outcome.
The diocese has continued to develop affordable housing options with 72 dwellings completed or near completion at the time of writing. Earlier in the year the diocese was successful in securing the former Empire Hotel site in Hunter Street, Newcastle. We hope that this will eventually be a 13 storey, 128 unit development offering affordable housing and housing for people with a disability.
We have seen the opportunity to expand diocesan services to childcare under the banner of St Nicholas Early Education. This is an obvious development of the existing educational services of the diocese, a way to support families with children and a good use of church assets in the community. In the past year a new St Nick’s centre has opened in Newcastle West and the Singleton centre has transferred from the local parish to the St Nicholas umbrella. We hope to see more early education centres roll out in the coming years with sites connected to existing Catholic primary schools and parishes being the priority.
With the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese upon us, one of the major projects has been the refurbishment of St John’s Chapel and the Cathedral precinct at Maitland. This will soon become a centre the diocese can be justly proud of and a highlight of the history of the Catholic Church in this area.
It remains challenging to continue the works of the diocese whilst ensure that appropriate compensation is paid to survivors of abuse. In the past year we have managed to do this and also run a surplus but the coming year and beyond will be difficult. At this stage it is unclear what recommendations will be made by government following the Royal Commission but the need to support survivors financially will no doubt continue.
The Catholic Development Fund (CDF) is experiencing rapid changes in its regulatory context. For many years the CDF has benefited from an exemption from the Banking Act. However, this will soon be reduced and there is a need to ensure that this important funding body for church projects can continue. Whilst the CDF has continued to achieve great financial success in recent years, for a period now the CDF has been in something of a holding pattern and it is time to gain greater clarity for the CDF and the diocese. We are exploring options for a licence for the CDF from the regulatory body, APRA. Should this be successful, we can then maintain the existing services and hopefully expand the CDF to broaden its reach and fund more projects.
Moving forward, we should expect more and greater scrutiny of church activities. This includes finances, use of property and acquittal of government funding whether for education, social services or other activities. It will be important to demonstrate to the community that the diocese is using any public monies it receives wisely and as intended. Greater transparency will be necessary and ongoing improvements to governance will be required. Demonstrating the difference the church makes to the life of our community will still be the challenge but with more schools being built, more housing for the vulnerable, more early education centres developed and more services delivered we hope that these will be tangible signs of a church that is looking to the future.