On September 15, 2017, the Diocese of Helsinki announced that most of the the buildings of the Diocesan centre of Stella Maris, which has been consecrated to Our Lady, will be torn down (click here for information in English). Today the Bishop has provided some more information about the finances of the Diocese as well as the future of Stella Maris. Below is the information from Bishop Teemu Sippo SCJ in English.
Dear Members of the Diocese,
Some preliminary information has been made available through the Diocesan magasine Fides and the Diocese's e-media regarding the Diocesan centre Stella Maris and also about the salaries of the priests in the Diocese. It is right that I provide some more information about these matters, so that we can avoid unnecessary rumours and misunderstandings.
Since the early days of the Church in Finland, we have assumed that priests are priests through their calling, and are not remunerated by a salary as such. Until today, priests have been provided with their livelihood – a place to live, food for their sustenance and, in addition to this, some pocket money. As an act of solidarity, this money has been donated by Catholic priests in Germany from their own income to priests whose financial situation is worse than their own. No priest has complained about this arrangement. In general, priests do not see their work as a profession, but as a calling to spiritual work; they are not doing it to make money, but to give their contribution to the work for humankind in accordance with the Gospel. From chaplains to bishops, their livelihood is the same.
In 2016, this changed. The Finnish occupational safety and health authorities and an inspector from the Regional State Administrative Agencies’ Occupational Safety and Health Divisions issued an invitation for inspections. Inspections followed at St Henry's Cathedral Parish, St Mary's Parish and St Joseph's Parish as well as the Catholic Information Centre and the Catechetical Centre, the Studium Catholicum and the Ursuline Sisters' Nursery in Jyväskylä.
The occupational safety and health inspector stated in their report that the clergy as well as organists are employees in an employment relationship. For priests, the correct term, according to the authorities, is a service relationship, which in a public entity is an employment relationship. By October 1st, 2017, we must see to employment contracts and all the fees and charges that are part of an employment relationship. In Finland, there are 24 priests that need to have an employment contract with the Diocese.
Because of the financial situation of Stella Maris, the very existence of the centre has been threatened for a couple of years. We have tried to improve the situation many times, but we have failed. The decision to opt for demolition is still not easy to make, as the pastoral work at Stella Maris continues and many people have wonderful memories of the place.
However, looking to the finances, there seems to be no other option. Even though we have implemented cost-saving solutions, such as installing geothermal heating, Stella Maris still generates a loss of more than EUR 50,000 per year. In addition, the buildings there are in very bad shape. The so-called Yellow House has been banned from use and the Main Building has problems with mould, asbestos and the roof. There is even concern that the roof may cave in. The Summer Chapel's roof is still leaking, despite numerous repairs. We cannot afford to repair the buildings. Therefore, the only solution is to tear down the above-mentioned buildings and place the movables in the so-called Lower House. If nothing else, this prevents the buildings from causing the Diocese further losses. There is no plan to sell the plot, but to keep it in expectation of better days, when we can build something good to replace the old buildings.
The need to pay the priests salaries means that the Diocese needs an additional EUR 500,000 per year (salaries, taxes, social costs, health care costs, insurance, pension fees). In addition to this, there are administration costs. Our benefactors in Germany will help us with this for at least a year or two, but we must make the effort to get the financial situation of the Diocese into shape in this new situation.
We need considerably more subsidies from the State, we need more aid from abroad and we need more help from parishioners in Finland. A key factor is to make the people in the Diocese aware of the fact that we as a Church are dependent on their financial support. It would be excellent, if the members of the Diocese paid 1% of their income to the Church as a voluntary membership fee. This would help us considerably.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who help their Church in one way or another!
+ Teemu Sippo SCJ
Bishop of Helsinki