Catholic Church to cash in on property price boom by selling off empty parochial homes

Archbishop Dermot Farrell (Photo: Dylan Vaughan)

Fionnán Sheahan

The Catholic Church in Dublin is going to cash in on the property price boom by selling off unused buildings and land.

Parochial houses in parishes where there are now no longer priests are top of the list for sale.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, is hiring a full-time property expert to work on the portfolio.

The move could potentially net tens of millions of euro for the archdiocese.

The sell-off comes as the church hierarchy in the capital merges parishes because of the shortage of priests

A Property Asset Manager is being recruited to devise a strategy on sales. The expert will have “significant property transaction experience, including managing complex transactions through to completion”.

Properties owned across the 197 parishes of the diocese include churches, parochial houses, parish halls and associated lands.

But the parishes are now evolving due to a decline in church attendance and vocations, so the “property needs will also will reflect these changing parish requirements”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin covers the city and county of Dublin, along with most of Wicklow and part of Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Wexford.

Latest figures show more than 40pc of the 312 priests who hold parish appointments in the Dublin Archdiocese are over 70 years of age and there are just two students preparing for priesthood.

With so many priests set to retire by 2026 and up to 20 priests dying every year, the archdiocese is facing a personnel crisis.

It confirmed recently that lay people are already helping to lead funerals due to a shortage of priests.

And a number of parishes are set to be merged, with a new strategy, ‘Building Hope’, encouraging parishes to group together due to the shortage of priests, with the changes already brought into force in Donnybrook, Booterstown and Foxrock.

Under the new plan a property asset manager will be recruited and report directly to the archbishop and develop an “asset management strategy, in collaboration with all stakeholders, to reflect emerging requirements”, “a property consolidation plan” and “a residential model to reflect the future needs of the diocese”.

The professional will have extensive experience in the property industry, including at least 10 years managing complex portfolios, thorough knowledge of the regulatory environment impacting on property ownership and management, including the urban planning process.

“Parishes occasionally sell residential properties that are no longer required. At the moment, the number of residences owned by parishes exceeds the number of priests. In several places, parishes have made unoccupied houses available to refugees from Ukraine. The property asset manager will assist parishes with the administration of their properties,” a spokesperson said.

“The decision to sell properties is made at the parish level. The staff of the Archdiocese then provide support and assistance,” the spokesperson added.

The Archdiocese of Dublin has become increasingly active on the property front as it examines the use of its portfolio.

Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Dublin made a submission to Dublin City Council on the zoning in the Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2022–28. The church wants the council to zone church lands for the building of homes at some point in the future.

“What is clear is that the designation of zonings which support residential development does not mean that these sites are immediately made available for redevelopment. The Dublin Diocese has a clear vision for their landholding and only when sites are no longer needed, or viable, of where the use is no longer tenable to they look to examine their options in respect of same,” the 130-page submission says.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has previously highlighted the significant amount of church-owned land he said is underutilised and could be used for social and affordable housing.

Last month he said he had written to the Archbishop of Dublin about the matter and that the issue had been raised at a recent Bishops’ Conference, at his request.

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