The diocese of Antigonish is about to put much of its property on the market to raise money to pay for an $18 million sexual abuse settlement.
The diocese has about 600 properties — including community halls, religious retreats and vacant land — that could be put up for sale. Cemeteries, churches and rectories still in use will not be sold, said Rev. Paul Abbass, diocese spokesman.
"Everything that is non-core is considered to be a possibility for sale," Abbass said Friday. "You look at all of that and you want to sell it at the right value. We look at it in terms of where are we going to be two years from now and what possibilities do we have. But, we haven't said that anything is not sellable."
Abbass said every parish will get first bid on its assets.
"The classic example would be a parish hall that is being well-used and it fits into the whole program of the parish," he said. "In that case, that parish may say it will really harm us pastorally to let go of that property. So, in that case, they have the occasion to bid on it first, but that's true for all of the properties."
Abbass said the church is willing to get creative to help parishes keep some of their assets, but the church needs money for the settlement if it's to avoid bankruptcy.
The diocese needs to raise $18 million to cover a $15 million settlement reached last August with victims of sexual abuse from the 1950s to 2009, in addition to $3 million for claims by six other people.
The settlement with abuse victims was negotiated by Raymond Lahey, the former bishop of the diocese of Antigonish, who has since been charged with possessing child pornography.
It was hailed as the first time the Roman Catholic Church apologized and set up a compensation package for people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests without fighting the charges in court.
May be hard sell
Abbas said a professional will be hired to oversee the sale of parish properties. The diocese will meet with the parishes next week to discuss what will be sold.
Bob Doucette, a real estate agent with Century 21 in Ingonish, said there are a few gems, such as property near the Cape Breton Highlands Links Golf Course, but the demand for much of the church real estate will be slim.
"You can stick your $100,000 For Sale sign out, and it will sit there for months, years, and really serve no purpose to anyone," he said.
Doucette predicted that church halls and old glebe houses in rural areas will be difficult to sell. The recession took away American and European buyers, and local entrepreneurs are scarce, he said.
"I can attest that there's many commercial properties on the market here in Cape Breton that have been sitting for years and years and there's no one showing an interest."
But local church communities may still have a need for their parish halls, Doucette said.
"The community will still have a need for a place for their bingo or their bake sales, and then it would be a matter, perhaps, for facilitating a process where the church could help local communities take over the facilities," he said.
Doucette said that with the exception of land on the water, the demand for a lot of church property may only be from those now using it.