(Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin speaks at a news conference in Dublin, Ireland November 26, 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

The Catholic Church in Ireland’s capital may have to tap parish funds to pay compensation to people sexually assaulted by priests as more victims come forward, the Archbishop of Dublin said on Thursday. The Archdiocese of Dublin has paid out 13.5 million euros ($18.2 mln) since the late 1990s in compensation and legal costs related to sexual abuse cases and it has asked parishes to contribute money to a fund partly used to meet those claims.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told Ireland’s state broadcaster that so far, no parish funds had been used to pay compensation but that could change. “It could happen, I would prefer that it didn’t,” he said. “I have no idea what the claims are going to be in the future, they could double. There are more and more claims coming in because unfortunately more and more people were abused by priests.”

The Catholic Church in Ireland is heavily reliant on parish donations but they have declined sharply in recent years as large numbers of people stopped attending Mass in protest against the sexual abuse of young people. On average, only 15 percent of pews are occupied during masses in Dublin. The recession has also hit donations. In the 2009/2010 financial year, the Dublin Archdiocese, where over 1 million Catholics live, raised 59 million euros in donations and asset sales compared to 66 million euros in the previous financial year.

Ireland’s government wants religious congregations, including the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, which are separate to individual parishes, to pay half of an estimated final compensation bill of 1.36 billion euros to victims of rape and abuse. The congregations, which ran the now-defunct industrial schools where the abuse occurred, have offered around 480 million euros, several hundred million short of the amount the government wants.