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About withholding donations to the Church

August 16, 2018

I worked directly for arch/dioceses for some 15 years and indirectly (teaching in a seminary) for a dozen more. Readers can use that fact to discount what I say below as biased or to credit it as informed. Readers’ call.

Various voices are calling for the faithful to withhold donations from the Church in response to the McCarrick scandal, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and so on. Other voices are urging Catholics to resist such calls. As the calls pro and con seem, so far, to fall within the bounds of Canon 212 § 3, I say, have at it folks. May the better arguments win. But we should note a few relevant canonical and practical points.

First, no canon requires Catholics to drop a donation in the Sunday collection. None. What the 1983 Code does say, however, in this regard, includes:

  • The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers. 1983 CIC 222 § 1.
  • The Church has an innate right to require from the Christian faithful those things which are necessary for the purposes proper to it. 1983 CIC 1260.
  • The Christian faithful are free to give temporal goods for the benefit of the Church. 1983 CIC 1261 § 1.
  • The faithful are to give support to the Church by responding to appeals and according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops. 1983 CIC 1262.

The roots of some of these canons, moreover, go back many centuries in Church history suggesting that more than ecclesiastical convenience is behind them.

Second, in nearly all arch/dioceses I am familiar with, Sunday plate collection (and other routine donations) go to the benefit of parishes (largely by implication  of Canon 1256). Thus, in most cases, withholding one’s regular donations directly hurts parish operations and not arch/diocesan.

Third, many arch/diocesan annual fund-raising campaigns are, technically speaking, designed to help parishes meet assessments (canonically, taxes) imposed by bishops (in my view, usually reasonably) on parishes per Canon 1263. Withholding one’s donations to annual arch/diocesan appeals therefore, again, hurts parishes first, though parish problems in meeting their annual assessments would be noticed at the arch/diocesan level.

Fourth, arch/dioceses facing financial shortfalls generally do what any large organization does in such situations, cut expenses, liquidate investments, and/or borrow money. Thus, the actual impact of withholding one’s donations to the arch/diocese, an impact often already diluted by the time it reaches the arch/diocesan level, is likely to be muted again by the usual financial expedients undertaken by other financially stressed organizations. By the way, intimations that arch/diocesan budgets get balanced at the expense of the poor, while such suggestions smack of emotional hostage-taking, do reflect the reality that many demands are made on arch/diocesan assets (see, e.g., Canon 1254 § 1) and that no undertaking would be immune from cuts.

What all this boils down to, I suggest, is that by the time one determines the exact financial footing of any given arch/diocese and predicts, rightly or wrongly, how that arch/diocese might respond to a drop in income, one should be able to see that across-the-board calls for Catholics to withhold donations “from the Church” are subject to so many qualifications and exceptions and ramifications (intended or not) that, well, it seems difficult to defend such calls as being based on convincing reasons.

Still, as stated above, no canon requires Catholics to make a donation on any Sunday to any parish and, given how little voice Catholics have in the selection of their leadership and their conduct, I understand why calls to strike back in some, in any, measurable way against massive, massive episcopal failures resonate with so many.

I’m just saying, be careful about punishing the Spouse of Christ and her dependent children because some priests and even bishops, men presumably wedded to her as Jesus was wedded to her, abandoned her so shamelessly.

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