'An Unholy Mess': The Economist on the Church's Finances

A pretty damning analysis from the British weekly:

OF ALL the organisations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church: its schools and hospitals provide a lifeline for millions. Yet even taking these virtues into account, the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess. The sins involved in its book-keeping are not as vivid or grotesque as those on display in the various sexual-abuse cases that have cost the American church more than $3 billion so far; but the financial mismanagement and questionable business practices would have seen widespread resignations at the top of any other public institution.


The sexual-abuse scandals of the past 20 years have brought shame to the church around the world. In America they have also brought financial strains. By studying court documents in bankruptcy cases, examining public records, requesting documents from local, state and federal governments, as well as talking to priests and bishops confidentially, The Economist has sought to quantify the damage.

The picture that emerges is not flattering. The church’s finances look poorly co-ordinated considering (or perhaps because of) their complexity. The management of money is often sloppy. And some parts of the church have indulged in ungainly financial contortions in some cases—it is alleged—both to divert funds away from uses intended by donors and to frustrate creditors with legitimate claims, including its own nuns and priests. The dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy may not be typical of the church as a whole. But given the overall lack of openness there is no way of knowing to what extent they are outliers.

Read the full story here.

Tim Reidy

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Jim McCrea
6 years 7 months ago
If the cesspool dries up, what makes you think that most (not all) bishops will be around?
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Bruce ,

No chuckling here.God for me is synonymous with mystery and being and that is why I struggle to have sympathy with atheists who see the Christian God as the whitebearded guy with the James Earl Jones voice.
That said ,Christ is the incarnation of said mystery.
A historical fact that is like a a voice from the abyss that we face.
The nothing I was referring to was the nihilism of the bishops.Nihilism as Nietzsche defined it about 50 years before the word was corrupted to mean it's opposite.
The value system in place which is an attempt to do away with the mystery of life (quenching it's beauty in the process) is best attacked in a truly ignatian way I believe. I am not sure that quote is actually from St Ignatius.
The cesspool remains believe me....
Finding God in all things is the Ignatian key ,that takes a talent that we all need to develop.  
david power
6 years 7 months ago
This is all good.
After 27 years of the Saint factory the truth is finally allowed to come out.
Jason Berry covered all of this excellently in his book .
Bruce, you do will to pray but nothing comes from nothing.
God can raise up  what HE likes and it is in him we should put our trust.
Biology and time is his trusted formula.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
Jim (#1), 
Thanks for providing the corrective to this article from the Georgetown source. While no readers here is likely to be surprised by the cannonball-sized hole the sexual abuse scandal has blown in the Church's financial foundation, nor the problems caused by what has been at least up until recently dwindling numbers of vocations, they probably were not aware of the cannonball-sized hole blown in the validity of the Economist's financial projections caused by confusing the average family's church contributions with the number of attendees at Sunday mass. Such a huge error can only result in wildly inaccurate estimates of Church income within the article.
Yet assuming they are accurate, there are some positive signs the article provides as well. While no one could suspect from this article that Catholic Charities, for example, rates 4 stars, the top category, in efficiency and overall performance by the Charity Navigator, we do learn that the Church provides 11% of all US hospitals, and that 25% of the top 100 hospitals in the country are associated with the Church, over twice as many as their numbers would suggest. Additionally, 5 of those top hospitals are run by the Jesuits.
Good job, Jesuits! Good job, Church! Not only do more inner city children benefit from parochials schools which outperform their commonly underperforming public school counterparts, but the general public benefits from the outperformance of Catholic hospitals as well. And there in a nutshell is the cannonball-sized rejoinder to the entire article: if the church manages so inefficiently, how does it manage to outperfrom the public schools and hospitals? Is the Church less inefficient than these numbers might imply, or that the counterparts in the federal government are even worse?
6 years 7 months ago
Jim (#3) You asked, “If the cesspool dries up what makes you think that most (not all) Bishops will still be around?” I believe they will be because, the economy in Acts … oops, don’t want to use that word “economy” sounds too much like THE problem , confirms the necessity of Bishops, which in turn confirms the reality of Eucharist, which in turn confirms the best reason I know why people should hang with the Church, helping to dry up that cesspool, because that’s where Jesus lives in Real Presence. A Protestant Minister once said, “If I believed what you Catholics do, that Jesus Christ is physically present in Eucharist, I wouldn’t just walk to church, I’d come on my knees!”

 If he’s really here, why run away? This takes Faith, of course, Faith which Paul calls “evidence” of things not seen, a pretty strong word, “evidence” making Belief in what has come to be called “the Catholic Church” tangible, a “hands- on” thing not nebulous or whiffy. But honest to God REAL!

 However if this evidence is not worth “a bucket of spit” as C. Coolidge said of the Vice Presidency of his day, then we are in truth, as Paul said somewhere else. , “ the most miserable” of all – we who believe in Jesus Christ, in the Church! I hope this makes sense to you. As my wife says I’m “longwinded!” Sorry!

David (#4) Yes, as you said, “Nothing comes from nothing” yet in a “corkscrew way” perhaps even the void of “nothing” that God worked with at creation, was really “something” nothing being non-dimensional, but organized through evolutionary process of creation into the well-dimensioned something that we see all around us. Well, something like that! Do I hear the more erudite chuckling, ”Looney Tooney! Looney Tooney!?”

 Yes, as you also said, “Prayer is something” in drying up the cesspool mentioned and that “trust in God” is the route. So, if I read you rightly you agree with what I tried to say in my unusually brief post. So let’s pray in the Ignatian way, that saint having said, “PRAY as it everything depended on God, but WORK as if everything depended on yourself!” And do so trustingly. Is there another way? I doubt it!
Carlos Orozco
6 years 7 months ago
It's not the first time I've heard of such problems. They certainly must be addressed. But coming from a Rothschild-owned publishing company, there is more than a simple call for transparency (which, in the current age of "Casino Gulag" global finances, is quite hypocritical).
6 years 7 months ago
That revelation in The Economist on Church finances made me sick! What a cesspool of human excrement the Institutional Church wades through defiling the Body of Christ! It is an "unholy mess" that must be corrected. I feel disgusted by what I read. All I can do is to pray that in God's own way and in God's own time the cesspool dries up and Bishops and others find ways to be honorable in all ways.
6 years 7 months ago
Jim (#1) I took time to read the info you supplied and now I don't feel SICK anymore! Thanks!I should have known - biased sources cannot be trusted!
6 years 7 months ago
Dave  (#9)   At the Well, the Woman having listened to Jesus said amazed, “Sir, I can see you are a Prophet!” Well, (see I also have a “Well”) after reading your #9 post others too, I can see you are a Philosopher and a Theologian beyond the  ordinary, indeed I venture to say well trained.  You are also   “totus catholicus” and able with moral certitude to differentiate  between culpable and non-culpable behaviors and outcomes particularly in the Catholic way, In a word you clearly know right from wrong. That’s a good thing!

On the other hand, I am neither philosopher, or theologian – maybe I should say I seem to   be naturally  philosophical (ask my wife!) and maybe by grace and some exposure, a theologian, but barely! But I believe that I too, know right from wrong and I believe I am totally catholic. To want to be “remembered” is a natural aspiration, shown even by Jesus, who made that human aspiration the summit and centerpiece of the Good News when he said at the First Eucharist on the night before he died,  “Do this in memory of me.” I want to be remembered too, but only as a Catholic man who knew a little about many things, but not very much about anything!” Perfect for me!

Now having said all of this, let me say I agree in principle with your #9 post, but I am inclined to see a lot of gray areas in the moral realm, fundamental absolutes for sure,  but applicatory not so clear. I don’t know if the example now given really is applicable, but I personally feel very relieved to know that according to St. Faustina Kowalska of Divine Mercy revelations, Jesus told her that at death he come one more time to everyone needing it to offer a last chance to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe!”  I told you I am no theologian! Just a man of simple Faith.

Thanks for hearing me out. You’re right, I’m right and in a nutshell neither of us are far from the truth. God bless you!  


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