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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Your pew dollars at work

The Economist has a story on the US Catholic Church's finances - Earthly concerns. It's a long and detailed article, so it's best to read the whole thing, but here are just a few tidbits from it .... ...

According to the story, the church spends relatively little of its money on charity ... The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). We think 57% of this goes on health-care networks, followed by 28% on colleges, with parish and diocesan day-to-day operations accounting for just 6% and national charitable activities just 2.7% (see chart) .... These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

Catholics in the pews are thought to contribute about $13 billion a year to the church but much more comes from wealthy private donors, and ... Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Cardinal-Archbishop of New York (a “corporation sole”, meaning a legal entity consisting of a single incorporated office, occupied by a single person), is believed to be Manhattan’s largest landowner, if one includes the parishes and organisations that come under his jurisdiction.

The church has spent an incredible amount on sex abuse settlements and is spending a lot also on trying to squelch any relaxation of the statutes of limitation for those crimes ... The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years ..... Cardinal Dolan and other New York bishops are spending a substantial amount—estimates range from $100,000 a year to well over $1m—on lobbying the state assembly to keep the current statute of limitations in place.

The church has used money meant for the retirement of priests and nuns to pay for abuse settlements. An example ... Under Cardinal Bernard Law, the archdiocese of Boston contributed nothing to its clergy retirement fund between 1986 and 2002, despite receiving an estimated $70m-90m in Easter and Christmas offerings that many parishioners believed would benefit retired priests.

And the church has apparently moved money around and undervalued assets in order to keep from paying victims in abuse settlements ... Creditors in the Milwaukee bankruptcy case, which is still in progress, have questioned the motives behind a $35m transfer to a trust and a $55.6m transfer from archdiocese coffers to a fund for cemeteries. Cardinal Dolan, who was Archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, authorised both transactions. The creditors think the movement of such large amounts had more to do with shielding cash from sexual-abuse victims than with the maintenance of graves, calling the manoeuvre fraudulent. Cardinal Dolan’s office responded to questions about these allegations by pointing to blog posts in which he described them as “baloney” and defended the transfers as “virtuous, open and in accord with the clear directives of the professionals on our finance council and outside auditors”.

... and ...

the diocese of San Diego listed the value of a whole city block in downtown San Diego at $40,000, the price at which it had been acquired in the 1940s, rather than trying to estimate the current market value, as required. Worse, it altered the forms in which assets had to be listed. The judge in the case, Louise Adler, was so vexed by this and other shenanigans on the part of the diocese that she ordered a special investigation into church finances which was led by Todd Neilson, a former FBI agent and renowned forensic accountant. The diocese ended up settling its sexual-abuse cases for almost $200m. If it had not done so, the bankruptcy would have been thrown out of court and the bishop and chancellor of the diocese and its lawyers might have faced contempt charges.

And church leaders wonder why people are leaving the church :(


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