No, the Church does not have a lot of money.

Frequently, critics of the Church will accuse it of being extraordinarily wealthy (and with that comes the implication of corruption and moral depravity). But the Church is not that wealthy.

In 2011, the Vatican had a $19 million (15 million euros) budget deficit. The Vatican typically faces a budget deficit every year (the year 2010 being a rare exception).

Dioceses all over the world have also been struggling financially. You can read about an example of that here.

The thing about the Church’s money is that it is typically spent in the following fields: general charity (ex: Catholic Relief Services, etc.), salaries (which, I assure you, are comparatively low next to many jobs), parish upkeep, missionary work, education, and social outreach.

First of all, some of those services are run independent of each other (and some are even managed by lay people, so the Church is not always able to exercise direct control and have more flexibility in those situations).

Second of all, those areas need a certain amount of stability, so when possible, budgets are left largely unchanged. The Church can not abandon its mission just because money is tight. We can not stop building irrigation systems in Ethiopia, providing clean water in the Philippines, putting HIV and AIDS programs in place in the developing world, and other charitable works.

The Church certainly does not waste what money it has, either. Catholic organizations are widely cited as some of the most efficient and productive organizations in the world. When it comes to Catholic Relief Services (a charity governed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), for example, 94% of the money they spend goes directly to programs that benefit the poor overseas (unlike many other charities that pay their leaders high salaries and provide many perks to them). You can read more about CRS’s efficiency here.

Despite all of that, the Church’s Institute for Works of Religion (most commonly known as the Vatican Bank) has been subjected to controversy. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the Vatican Bank has strong ties to the mafia, trying to link it to events that occurred in the 1980s. However, there is no proof that the Vatican Bank has or ever had any real ties to the mafia.

Many Protestants think the Church is a sort of all-powerful behemoth, capable of getting anything it pleases, but they do not take into account that the Church’s temporal authority has been greatly curtailed in the last few hundred years. Long ago are the times when the Church was able to demand action by governments and was able to bring about social change when it was needed. Now, the Church is lucky to even get represented at all in most debates.

So, the next time someone tries to suggest that the Church is some sort of corrupt organization intent only on making and hoarding money, please correct them.

Image

The Institute for Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank. CNS/Catholic Press Photo

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About Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson is a college student in the Diocese of Little Rock. He was raised in multiple Protestant denominations before eventually converting to Catholicism on 7 April 2012. His primary interests are theology, Church history, and ecumenism. He is privately discerning the possibility of God calling him to the priesthood. He has a blog, Answering Protestants. He also has a Twitter account, @crucifixwearer.

9 responses to “No, the Church does not have a lot of money.”

  1. Dick Schenk says :

    I agree with your points but they really address the annual operating budget of the Church. The objection I always hear is about the Churh wealth tied up in real estate, art, churches, etc. A quick internet search states that the Roman Catholic Church is the single largest holder of gold ingot/bullion in the world. If that is true, it certainly appears the Church is very wealthy. Please respond

    • matthewolson2 says :

      Like Anthony S. Layne pointed out…
      “Selling all the artwork collected over the centuries would provide funds for a little while; once it was spent, though, the Church would be culturally impoverished as well as back in the financial hole. And there are some things for which there are no markets: what’s the going price for a second-hand basilica? After all, you can’t sell Michaelangelo’s painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without selling the chapel itself.”

      I plan on writing about the cultural identity of the Church in future posts. :)

      • WSquared says :

        I look forward to your posts, then. While I did answer this rather common criticism (with the usual and obligatory “Jesus didn’t have all that gold!” remark that tends to bypass the glory of God and the Incarnation), I think ably, Mr. Layne’s response is nonetheless far better than my own.

        After that initial encounter, I thought about Dorothy Day’s quote, whereby she said that if churches were reduced to a sterile box with four walls, it would reduce the poor to a soul-crushing gray. An article (I think written by Elizabeth Scalia) entitled “Why Beautiful Churches?” raised a similar point: if you want to tell the poor that they are just as important and deserving of love as anyone else, you’re not going to tell them that by making the world uglier for them. It did get me thinking about material expressions of the spiritual works of mercy.

      • Dick Schenk says :

        Thanks for the good responses. Every once in a while a friend or acquaintance will bring up the wealth of the Church. I am somewhat caught off guard and my reply isn’t as strong as it should be. This exchange is helpful.

    • Anthony S. Layne says :

      “A quick internet search states that the Roman Catholic Church is the single largest holder of gold ingot/bullion in the world.” Not true; the US is #1 (8.965.6 tons as of 2011) followed by Germany (3,743.7 t) and the IMF (3,101 t). Neither the Holy See nor the Vatican fall in the top 15. Granted the info’s a couple of years old; nevertheless, I can’t feature the IOR coming up with the scratch to corner the market in that short a time. Sadly, this is simply the anti-Catholic’s version of “The Jews own all the banks”.

      The bulk of the Holy See’s operating capital comes from investments throughout Europe and currency trading through APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See), working from the money given the Holy See by Mussolini’s government as part of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. Vatican City, by contrast, supports itself with selling stamps, coins, medals and other touristy gewgaws, as well as some publishing and light industrial. Not much money there.

      BTW, Matthew, thanks for your kind words. And do write that piece on the Catholic cultural heritage!

  2. Anthony S. Layne says :

    You make a lot of good points. Just one more to add: Selling all the artwork collected over the centuries would provide funds for a little while; once it was spent, though, the Church would be culturally impoverished as well as back in the financial hole. And there are some things for which there are no markets: what’s the going price for a second-hand basilica? After all, you can’t sell Michaelangelo’s painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without selling the chapel itself.

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