Scots Catholics urged to dig deep as Pope's visit makes £800k shortfall

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IT WAS hailed as the most important spiritual visit to Scotland since the Reformation - but it has come at a cost.

• 70,000 pilgrims turned out in Bellahouston Park as the Pope held a Mass, but 100,000 has been predicted

Scottish Catholics will be told this weekend that they have to make up an 800,000 cash shortfall for the cost of the papal visit.

Congregations were already asked in the run-up to the event in September to donate cash to an appeal target of 1.7 million to fund the historic first state visit by a pontiff.

How successful the Scots were in reaching this target remains unknown, as it has never been published by the Church, but church-goers are due to be told at mass this weekend the size of their share of the total cash shortfall for the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

A collection will be held on the weekend of 6 and 7 November to try to raise the outstanding 800,000.

However, it is understood that this is likely to be just the first a series of fundraising efforts held over the coming months to cover the cost of the visit.

Catholic writer Liz Leydon said she believed that many Catholics would think the price tag was worth it, due to the successful reaction to the visit, during which the Pope staged a historic meeting with the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

She said: "It is unfortunate that there is an extra bill, but I think people would rather have had the event they did, rather than say after-the-fact, 'I wish we'd had more speakers, or more lighting'.

"The Church had to deliver an experience that will remembered for generations to come."

While congregations have already been told there would be a deficit, senior churchmen had not revealed the size of it to them.

According to one senior church source, the reason people are being given such a short warning of the special collection date is so that it will coincide with a Mass of Thanksgiving for the success of Pope Benedict's visit at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Fears about how the Church was going to pay the bill were raised in the run-up to the event. The numbers expected to attend the Mass at Bellahouston Park dropped from a projected 100,000 pilgrims, each of whom was expected to make a 20 donation to help to cover costs, to a significantly lower figure of 70,000.

Catholic commentators have already speculated that the Church hugely underestimated what organising the event would entail, compared with the 1982 visit by John Paul II, and were now having to count the cost.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, confirmed the 800,000 figure. He said: "A letter concerning the outstanding amount went out to parishes at the start of the month, asking for contributions. Another will be going out in the next week, and another before the end of the year."There's no clock ticking or deadline looming. The reality is, once we've past an event, you don't want to wait too long to raise money, as it becomes harder to do that as the event becomes more distant."

He added that there was no time limit for how long the Church would continue to raise money to cover the costs, saying it could be "six months or six years" and would go on until the task was completed.

"There is no other way. We will just keep asking people until we get the money we need."

Mr Kearney insisted, however, that there was no set amount that a church member had to give, stating there was "no levy".

When asked if the cash deficit had come as a shock, he said it had been anticipated: "We had about half of the amount of run-in time to prepare and fund raise as we had for 1982's visit - which was about 18 to 20 months.

"We knew that the costs of the pastoral visit would be high, and we knew some fund-raising would go on before and during the visit and some after it."

The government covered many of the Church's contributions towards last month's four-day trip and wants the money to be repaid by the end of the financial year.

The Church across Britain has raised 6.5m but it faces a 3.5m shortfall, of which the Scottish Church is expected to pay 800,000.

The papal visit in numbers

1.7m the appeal target for Scottish Catholics in the run-up to the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

800,000 the shortfall that Scottish congregations must make up following the event.

100,000 the number of pilgrims expected to attend the Bellahouston Park mass.

10m the cost to the Catholic Church in the UK for the Papal visit.

3.5m the shortfall the Church now faces.

70,000 the number of pilgrims who did attend.

20 the donation expected from each pilgrim who attended.

185,608 the number of Catholics who say that they are regular mass attenders in 2008.

13m the size of the debt that the Church had to foot following the John Paul II Papal visit in 1982.

6th/7th the date next month for the first special collection to raise money to pay for the shortfall.