Bishop 'loses his cassock on the stock market'

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One hundred and eighty outraged priests in a Spanish parish near Valencia have launched a rebellion against their bishop, who last week slashed their wages and asked them to make up the difference by dipping into the collection box.

One hundred and eighty outraged priests in a Spanish parish near Valencia have launched a rebellion against their bishop, who last week slashed their wages and asked them to make up the difference by dipping into the collection box.

At least one aggrieved priest sought advice yesterday from the socialist trade union federation, the UGT, which claims never to have come across a case of its kind. The extraordinary cost-cutting exercise in the diocese of the Right Rev Juan Antonio Reig Pla, the Bishop of Segorbe-Castellón, has been prompted by its dire finances. Under the bishop's stewardship, debts have accrued of more than €5m (£3.4m).

Amid a flurry of rumours, priests say the losses were caused by the bishop's forays into the stock market. Spanish media has reported that ill-advised investments produced losses of €800,000, an allegation the bishop's spokesman, Elias Sanz, denied yesterday as "infamous".

But Alvaro Miralles, priest of the parish of Santa Maria Magdalena in Villafranca del Cid, insisted: "The stock exchange, not just for a priest but for any Christian, is an institution that enables the rich to gain and the poor to lose. What is the Church doing, playing that game? They have spent money they shouldn't have."

Fr Miralles said that Bishop Reig Pla has cut the wages of all the priests in the diocese by between 10 per cent and 50 per cent without warning or consultation. His own salary was reduced from €600 a month to €295.

On Wednesday, 20 of the affected priests met to request that the bishopric give a full report of its spending, and complained that "there was a lack of transparency" surrounding the unilateral cut. "Many priests are unable to manage. We agreed that we had to take action," Fr Miralles said.

Constantino Calero, the regional secretary of the General Workers' Union (UGT), said yesterday he was studying the wage cut "to see if it was legal ... We are studying the matter in detail because it's not just an arithmetical problem, but a new situation quite different from anything we've ever dealt with," Mr Calero said.

Fr Miralles said he was told to boost his income from the collection box - a proposal that has outraged many priests. He said: "Money that comes into the parish is sacred and should be used for church repairs, activities and essential running costs."

This is not the first time Bishop Reig Pla has been subject of polemic in his diocese. Last May he was at the centre of a "prayers for cash" controversy, when he invited parishioners to sponsor seminarists in his care who would promise to say prayers for their benefactor. The bishop was unavailable for comment.

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