How Wealthy is the Catholic Church?

[ 26 ] July 7, AD 2013 |

Vatican-WealthWith the new Pope naming himself after arguably the most renowned beggar who ever lived – Francis of Assisi – some commentators are hoping that the Catholic Church will at last divest itself of the wealth it has been clinging to for thousands of years and begin to preach the authentic Gospel of Christ. These calls though are reminiscent of the Apostle Judas who protested at Mary Magdalene’s use of costly ointment on the feet of Jesus’ which was followed by the Gospel writers’ astute comment, “he did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief”. How many of those who criticise the Church for her alleged wealth are concerned about the poor rather than simply desiring to bring down the influence of Christianity in society? It is not wealth in and of itself that is evil but an inordinate attachment to it. None the less the Church does and should have a preferential option for the poor and Pope Francis has rightly expressed his desire for a Church that is poor and for the poor. So just how wealthy is the Catholic Church?

When people think of the supposed wealth of the Church they most likely picture the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica and the works of art within the walls of the Vatican. It is wise to recall though that the Church does not consider itself the owners of these items but rather the custodians of them for all humanity. For if the Catholic Church had not safeguarded the great treasures of culture for two thousand years through war and through peace, who do we suppose was going to do it? Something else worth remembering is that many of the pieces that are today regarded as great works of art were originally created as works of devotion, and the only reason they have existed long enough to be considered so valuable, is again because the Catholic Church has watched over them with solicitude across the centuries.

The Vatican has for some years publically released its annual budget, although as a sovereign nation it is under no requirement to do so. The Vatican runs with an annual operating budget of around $300 million but keep in mind that the Vatican employs close to 3000 people and supports 1000 retirees. With that same money it keeps St Peter’s Basilica and the key Churches of Rome in operation, it maintains the Vatican museums and provides important missionary services such as the Vatican radio and newspaper. This budget does not include the monies that are sent in from the lay faithful around the world to support the charitable works of the Pope known as ‘Peter’s Pence’. Totaling around $70 million each year, Peter’s Pence is used to support ecclesial communities most often in mission countries who have no one else to turn too. The Vatican Bank, or more properly, the Institute for the Works of Religion, controls a much larger amount of money estimated to be around $6 billion, however most of it is not the money of the Vatican but religious orders, dioceses and Catholic organisations which use the money for their particular work of ministry and charity.

The specific ‘wealth’ of the Vatican does not cover the many dioceses in individual nations which essentially manage their own expenditure. As an example, it has been estimated by The Economist that the Catholic Church in the USA spends collectively in excess of $170 billion each year but this is not on caviar and fine wine. The money goes to fund healthcare, universities, schools, parishes, charities and the payroll of the one million people who work for the Church and make it all happen (this includes the tens of thousands of priests and religious who give their lives for Christ and the service of the Church and must be thus housed and provided for).

Those who think the Catholic Church has a lot of money are correct but those who think the Church holds onto money for the sake of it are incorrect. The Catholic Church is not a ‘fly by night’ organisation that is flippant about money. Working to bring the message of Jesus Christ to every generation and to serve the needs of humanity requires funds, and as the single most charitable private organisation on the planet the Catholic Church uses its money as a wise steward should.

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Category: Columnists, Religion

About the Author ()

Bernard Toutounji is an Australian Catholic writer and speaker. He writes a fortnightly column called Foolish Wisdom (www.foolishwisdom.com) which takes a contemporary issue within news, culture or faith and examines it through the lens of reason and Judeo-Christian principles. One of Bernard’s favourite quotes comes from Edith Stein who said "All those who seek truth seek God whether this is clear to them or not". Bernard’s passion is leading people to discover this truth for themselves.
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  • Phil Dzialo

    The Catholic Church, Bernard, is quite wealthy. I do not dispute your figures but they relate to the Vatican City State which is. exactly 109 acres. There are untold billions there in hidden art treasures and gold which could certainly be liquidated to feed the starving. The RCC is the largest property owner in the world. The Vatican IOR is perhaps the most corrupt financial institution in the world known for laundering money and the clergy under prosecution. No transparency at all here.

    In the US, there are 195 dioceses which are each a “corporation sole” and the finances there are not transparent.

    The financial woes of the RCC are primarily attributable to the clergy sex scandal which you neglected to mention. From 1950 to 2007 the RCC paid out $2-3 billion (depending on the source) in settlements for clergy abuse in the US…when you will add in Australia, Ireland, Germany, etc. we could see figures nearer to $10 billion. From 2004 -2011, eight RCC dioceses declared bankruptcy owingto sex abuse issues. All in all, the RCC could have fed and clothed billions of people and instead paid the money for sins of priests. Not a poor church at all.

    • Deb Daily

      “he did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief”. –

      The abused are people too, they deserve special care for their recovery! We live in a world of thieves and pervs. To put all the burden on the RCC as the culprit is naïve at best. In addition, most of those funds that settled these cases were from insurance. The diocese gives their reports every week/year to the parish.

      Imagine how much it will cost if we were to sue all the institutions of the world that are far more extensive and abusive than the RCC? We could feed all seven billion and the next three generations. Right? No doubt you will be up front and center sacking the Vatican of all its beautiful art. Did we miss the point that the RCC is already the largest philanthropist in world?

      No, the only way to clean things up would be for all the charities and organizations to manage their own funds locally and shut down the Vatican Bank for good. That is the only thing lacking transparency, no doubt, in a world of central banking cabals. The RCC would be free of their chains.

    • HappySheep

      It is a great tragedy that the money we have paid out for these scandals has
      diminished the good work that the Church does. But if these are honest and
      legitimate claims the Church must pay her debts. The goal of the church is not
      earthly wealth although a certain amount is needed to exist and function. If you
      add up the real estate and contents of all the churches, hospitals, schools,
      universities, and religious service organizations it would add up to a lot of “wealth”
      as there are over a billion Catholics in the world and we have been around for 2000
      years. This is working wealth not gold buried in vaults.

      Jesus will stick with us for better or worse and will bring his Church through all of
      this despite ourselves.

    • adn8

      fed and clothed billions?! What idiocy. First the Vatican does not have control over the diocesan budgets. So you’re really dealing with their annual budget, which is something like half the budget of the Smithsonian, and much of which is related to Vatican city and the museums and artwork. So yes, you could sell off the art, but then the world would be deprived of it (probably) and you’d also lose the revenue stream associated with it.

      Second, if you sell of the art for a few billion, you’re going to feed and clothe “billions” for a number of hours. Then you’re done. Great job, nitwit! You turned the world’s art patrimony into a summer palace for George Soros of the Koch brothers and you’ve solved the world’s poverty problem for all of fifteen minutes!–after which it returned again exactly as it had been the day before.

      • Phil Dzialo

        Calling people (me) a nitwit is rather unkind and lacks charilty. You can disagree without calling names….adn8 or who eber you really are?

      • adn8

        You’re leveling charges related to the mismanagement and misappropriation of, in your estimation, “untold billions” and you’re going to cry about being called a nitwit? (I know, it IS a pretty brutal term!)

        Phil, here’s the deal: I troll the trolls. Sorry you got caught up in it, but think before you make outlandish claims that impugn other individuals or organizations.

      • MM

        “Adn8″ you were making sense but you lost me when you started throwing out the name calling. If your argument is sound you don’t need to use an ad hominem. Not cool.

      • Darran McDonnell

        It would be an ad hominem if he evaded the argument and instead attacked the person to insinuate that the argument is untrustworthy. You know, a little bit like what you guys did here.

        That’s not to say it may have been mildly inpolite, or perhaps a little too sensitive on the recieving end, maybe.

    • Ron Van Wegen

      “The Vatican IOR is perhaps the most corrupt financial institution in the world…”
      Oh, give me a break!

    • Tony R

      the RCC could have fed and clothed billions of people and instead paid the money for sins of priests. Not a poor church at all.

      Matthew 26: For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
      you sound like Judas…
      Arch-Bishop Sheen. Judas knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

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  • JuanOskar JayMaynes

    I think it’s a good article Mr.Toutounji has written and I will use it when defending the Church against anti-Catholic forces. But Catholic to Catholic, I don’t think our Church leaders are spending wisely. In Europe 5% of Catholics still go to Mass, in the U.S. it’s less than 20% and 51%+ of Catholics in the U.S. vote for pro-abortion politicians. I give weekly to my local parish but I’ve structured it to stay only in the parish. Most diocese are like the government. When they get a little extra money they want to build things and hire more experts. It’s time to practice a little more austerity.

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  • Rick Connor

    Because of a treaty with the nation of Italy the Catholic Church cannot sell off the Vatican treasures. Those treasures are considered the patrimony of Italy. http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-cannot-exchange-vatican-treasure-for-food

  • MM

    Thanks for this helpful article!

  • Daenerys

    I applaud Bernard Toutounji’s marvelous article attempting to correct many a person’s mistaken idea of the Vatican’s supposed superlative wealth that is must be hording for itself.

    There have been some revealing and insightful comments here, such as Rick Conner’s clarifying that the Treasure’s of the Vatican cannot be sold due to a treaty with Italy that holds them as the patrimony of Italy.

    How sad it is that some people would want to see world treasure’s lost while how many want to give up their game console’s, trips to Starbuck’s, extra cars, large homes, extra clothes or other taken for granted extras in life that they could in turn send this extra money to the poor? Maybe all countries should then sell the treasures of their museums and national landmarks for the same cause? What about big corporations and companies, such as some of the tech giants who, instead of feeding their employees free meals, not to mention what happens with the waste, they could send the money to feed the poor?

    The primary mission of the Church is not one of charity though it is most charitable organization in the world, because that is part of it’s living out its message to the world.

    May everyone be blessed.

    • Paxton Reis

      “How sad it is that some people would want to see world treasure’s lost while how many want to give up their game console’s, trips to Starbuck’s, extra cars, large homes, extra clothes or other taken for granted extras in life that they could in turn send this extra money to the poor?”

      And we can place this in context of the billions and billions spent on armaments each year globally; the $150B or more worth of food Americans toss in the trash each year…or the tens of billions they spend on soda and candy; tens of billions more they spend on movies, video games, lottery tickets, etc.

      Yes, yes indeed, the finances of the Church are way the poor of the world suffer.

  • JimmyChonga

    I HATE it when I HAVE to pay taxes in order to keep from being thrown into jail or have my property confiscated; only to support an agenda that is so clearly ANTI-life and ANTI-Catholic I feel like I’m throwing the full weight of my support behind the “enemy”. I miss a tax rate which would credit my charitable giving; and a president that highly regards life as a properly oriented human being should.

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  • Maria

    Thank you for this article. Does anyone happen to know whether Catholic organisations like CRS are supported by the Institute for the Works of Religion?
    I hope NOT!

  • Far East

    Thank you Bernard Toutounji for this article! An educated, insightful one such as this beats all those crazy conspiracy theories and systematic debunking of the Catholic Church’s financial resources exercised by some media.

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  • Angel Lawin

    The truth is, the Church and the religions are the ones who plundered humanity: http://www.thename.ph/thename/revelations/plunder-en.html

    • Manuel

      Great article Angel and this is why so many are lost today. They follow the corrupt Vatican and NOT the word of God. The Vatican claims to be above the word of God and this is how they deceive millions. Who has actually studied the historical facts of the Catholic church and how many they killed? Who knows how many banks they now control? An investigation by BRW magazine in 2006 put the Catholic Church’s revenue in Australia for the previous year near $16.2 billion, all tax-exempt. It is Australia’s biggest private property owner and non-government employer, with more than 150,000 people on its payroll. True Christians please ask yourselves…Would Jesus conduct himself in this manner? I don’t hate any person, but the Vatican and Popes have always been associated with evil deeds since they formed in 325AD. They are a pagan corporation and this is clearly evident with the huge Egyptian obelisk in St Peter’s Square and every other statue, sun dial etc. all throughout their churches. The Obelisk represents the pagan god Baal and the male penis. They are NOT Christian at all. This being said…there are many sincere people in the RCC who should read their Bibles and see what the word of God says, not what man and a corrupt corporation says. Peace to all. Follow truth and the Bible, not your feelings or your sinful heart. Not my words, but God’s. Amen.