The Economist Estimates the Catholic Church Spent $171,600,000,000 in 2010

The Economist has attempted to paint a picture of what the Catholic Church’s finances look like, especially in light of the sexual abuse scandals. I’ll admit it. I may have salivated a bit at this paragraph:

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.

They estimate that the church spends about $171,600,000,000 a year. Not a typo.

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). In total, Catholic institutions employ over 1m people, reckons Fred Gluck, a former McKinsey managing partner and co-founder of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a lay organisation seeking to improve the way the church is run. For purposes of secular comparison, in 2010 General Electric’s revenue was $150 billion and Walmart employed roughly 2m people.

Wow. You knew the Church had money… but that much?!

Where does it all come from? Offering plates, donations, tuition money, Medicare/Medicaid payments, and other investments.

I thought that the sexual abuse scandal payouts would at least put a dent in their budget. Turns out it’s only a small fraction of it and most of the payments are made by local dioceses and not the Vatican:

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, $1.3 billion of that in California. The total is likely to increase as more states follow California and Delaware in relaxing the statute of limitations on these crimes, most of which were reported long after they happened. For an organisation with revenues of $170 billion that might seem manageable. But settlements are made by individual dioceses and religious orders, whose pockets are less deep than those of the church as a whole.

One of the consequences of the dioceses paying these costs is that some of them have gone out of business and more will likely follow:

Over the past eight years, a combination of these stresses has driven eight dioceses (including San Diego, Tucson and Milwaukee) to declare bankruptcy, as well as the American arm of the Irish Christian Brothers and a regional branch of the Jesuits. More of America’s 196 dioceses could be forced to do the same. Efforts are under way in the legislatures of Arizona, Illinois, New York, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California (again) to extend statutes of limitations, according to Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents many victims of abuse. If any of these efforts succeeds, the expectation among lawyers like Mr Anderson is that some of the affected dioceses would seek Chapter 11 protection while they attempt to settle the cases. (Troubled dioceses generally settle suits just before the bishop is due in court.) The diocese of Honolulu could be the next to go bankrupt. In May it was hit by a pair of new lawsuits after the extension of Hawaii’s statute of limitations for victims of abuse.

The article also notes that there isn’t a long line of future priests, donations are dropping, and pensions are underfunded. All of that means the future doesn’t look very good for the Church.

There’s only one thing left to do:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Stev84

    This again shows that churches’ much vaunted charity is usually only a miniscule amount of their total expenses.

  • Guest

    Yep.  There’s nothing I would like to see happen more than a global institution that gave over 100 billion dollars to healthcare and charity go under.  The enlightened 21st century: where no amount of human suffering and loss is more important than winning an ideological argument; the first century in the last half millennium that would give medieval peasants something to laugh at. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627228091 Alexander Ryan

    We’re several trillion dollars in debt, but the Government would rather add taxes to the poor and common items than to the religious. 

  • Yogibier

    And I guess the atheists would put together the money to buy the vatican?
    Are we talking about the people who didn´t even get enough SIGNATURES under a petition to get the US government to take an interest?

    Yeah, sounds practicable!

  • http://twitter.com/Lavvie Lavvie

    …..did you not read the article? This author actually pointed out at least one huge thing (the child molestation scandal) that the Catholic church has done to hurt people and of course there are many many more ways that this site and many others have pointed out that the Catholic church has done actual harm to people. This isn’t just about ideology, this is about real people and real lives affected. Also, there are other secular charities that people could donate to that probably could really use it and could do it in ways that do not have the horrible consequences that donating to the Catholic church brings.

  • jdm8

    If you think all that health care is a gift to the world, I think I have some bridges to sell you at a cut rate.

    The actual charitable expenditures is not even 5% of the budget outlay.

  • advancedatheist

    The Catholic Church shouldn’t even exist, according to creationist reasoning. All the Catholics should have evolved into Protestants by now. 

  • Guest

    Yeah, because these are such unbiased and objective appraisals of the Catholic Church.  Try reading other sources.  Going to places like these to see how the Catholic Church has done is like going to a Nuremburg Rally to find out the contributions of Jewish people to Western Civilization.

  • Guest

    So that’s 5% of a multi-billion dollar annual budget you’re willing to see go down the tubes? And what about that healthcare.  My youngest children were born in a Catholic hospital – and we weren’t Catholic!  But it had about the best care of any in the region.  Gone.  Puff!  Nice to see tolerant and open-minded atheists are still out and about.

  • jdm8

    Did you or your health care plan pay for the hospital services? Unless they gave you the care and did not take any payment for it, it’s not a gift or donation.

    Speaking of which, what has the Catholic Church done about the Final Solution? Very little, actually. They made deals to save their necks in exchange for silence on the matter.

  • Stev84

    You know Catholic Charities? They have a 4.6 billion dollar budget. Almost 3 billion of that is paid for by the federal government. Only the miniscule amount of 140 million actually comes directly from the church.

    It’s the same with Catholic hospitals, which are largely funded with tax payer money. For that the church then demands to be exempt from all laws they don’t like. Religious-based charity and social services are horrible since they come with far too many negative consequences.

  • Gus Snarp

    And how much did you/your insurance company pay the hospital? Catholic health care is not a charity, it’s a business. Show me where Catholic hospitals are cheaper or are reducing cost in any way over any other hospital system. And let’s be clear, if the Catholic Church went bankrupt they would sell the hospitals and they would continue to operate in much the same way they do now.

    As for the 5% down the tubes, how much of what’s donated to the Church goes out in actual services versus how much is spent on administrative and other functions? What’s the efficiency of the charity? I’m thinking it’s pretty bad. If the only argument you’ve got for the Catholic church is that it motivates people to donate money to charity, can you show that it drives enough donations to be worth how much of that money it spends on other things? If all those people who currently give to the Catholic Church no longer had a Catholic Church to give to, would they stop giving entirely? Or would they still give enough that when given to more efficient charities it would more than make up for that 5%?

  • Tom

     You were happy enough to use the figures in these appraisals for your own argument.

  • Gus Snarp

    The Economist is not exactly known as a liberal, religion-hating rag. If they’re not an unbiased source on this, I don’t know what is.

  • Stev84

    You really need to learn how health care, hospitals and health insurance work

  • Eric

    Ah yes, the old “at least the trains ran on time” argument.

  • The Other Weirdo

    So, out of a budget of $171bn , charities account for $4.7bn? Tell me where the good works are that justify its continued tax-exempt status?

  • Eric

    Again, “the trains ran on time” excuse.

    Also, pleas to anecdote mean nothing.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

     “…where no amount of human suffering and loss is more important than winning an ideological argument;”

    AAAAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Oh, such sweet, deep, rich irony.

  • Guest081712

    Found a seller on spreadshirt that is trying to spread the message.

    http://ratanu.spreadshirt.com/tie-dye-atheism-A10738013/customize/color/253

  • SJH

    So by my calculations:

    4.7% donated to charities
    48.8% used as on education (also charity)
    57.5% used as health services (also charity)

    So that is 88.6% used for charity

    Not to mention the amount of money given to charities by every parish which would be included in the “Parishes/diocese” number which is roughly 6.4% of the total.
    The “Other” portion of the graph states that it includes private school education which would also be a charity.

    So lets say that only 10% of the “parish” and “other” numbers are charity (it is probably more).

    This means that the Catholic Church only keeps about 10% of its income and spends the rest on charity.

    Using the numbers provided it seems that we should all encourage the Church and its mission.

  • Kari Lynn

    Um, no.

    If you have to pay for the education and health care, it is not charity. I have never seen a Catholic school or hospital just giving things away for free. Anecdote: My best friend went to the University of Detroit (Catholic), tuition was outrageous and she even got a discount + scholarships. She joined the Army to cover the rest of her expenses.

  • kagekiri

    Catholic hospitals and universities and private schools have fees and are run like businesses as far as I know; this isn’t them spending on things that aren’t also making them money.
    They’re potentially good things, sure, but they don’t qualify as “charity”.

    Otherwise, what, you’d classify paying for a hospital visit as charity to yourself? Paying your doctor is charity? Buying a bandaid is charity? Please.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    “They estimate that the church spends about $171,600,000,000 a year. Not a typo.”

    Hey!  That’s funny, because I know ONE guy that spent more than that in one year!  Actually, he’s spent almost $6 trillion in 4 years! 

    At least this is a worldwide church.  I love how people hang on to things like this.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    So, what you’re saying is, if a charity gives someone $100 to cover their food for one month, and the same person spends $50 to cover the rest, that’s not charity? 

  • Gus Snarp

    Let me go find the itemized bill from the Catholic hospital where my kids were born and you can tell me if it looks like charity. The healthcare segment is listed in the article as health care networks. That’s the system of Catholic hospitals, outpatient clinics, and associated doctors. It is a business. Fees are charged for services, rooms, equipment, and consumables. It costs every bit as much as any other doctor or hospital. This is not the old Catholic hospital for the poor from the movies.

    Catholic universities cost more than public universities. They too are run as a business.

    Catholic schools – same.

  • Patterrssonn

    Sorry Guest but ranty nutty bullshit like that won’t get you too far on this site.

  • Patterrssonn

    Did you even read the post?

  • SJH

     How is it not a charity? Someone pays for abortions at planned parenthood yet it is still considered a charity.

    Charities still have operating costs and they provide services. The doctors must still get paid (many of whom are not even catholic). Providing an institution and infrastructure where these things can take place is a charitable activity in itself.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    “Did you or your health care plan pay for the hospital services? Unless they gave you the care and did not take any payment for it, it’s not a gift or donation.”

    Wouldn’t it be implied that if this person used their own money or healthcare plan to pay for the hospital services, then they didn’t (probably) need charity?

    You know, some people *can* take care of themselves.

  • Patterrssonn

    I think it would be perfect for Disney, probably the Vaticans biggest competitor in the marketing of fantasy.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    Wait wait, are you saying you needed charity?  Charity is usually given to people who need it, not people who don’t need it.Not saying you didn’t need it, just wondering?

    Also, Catholic schools give scholarships to their students, and lower-income families.  Of course, I’m sure you’re against that because it’s a religious organization, and we can’t have children exposed to religion at an early age by their parents because, surely, parents know squwat about raising their own children.

  • SJH

    Just because you have to pay for something does not mean that the institution is not a charity. Often times the price paid does not cover the actual cost.

    According to the chart, health care and education are expenses not income. Isn’t that the point of the chart to represent how much money the Church spends on these items. The Church is spending money on caring for the health of people and educating people. How is that not charity?

  • Don M

    Not sure I follow the shock, or the comment about where the money comes from.  It looks like the VAST majority of the expenses comes from hospitals and universities.  That means the money comes from tuition and from patients, insurance companies, and government support of those institutions.  This doesn’t say what the income is from these operations – there could be huge profits.  I would think that the expenses of running a metropolitan hospital would be hundreds of times more than a food bank. 

    I also am not sure if these figures include work by Catholic Charities and other specific charitable organizations.  I’m also not sure if the churches are separately incorporated, and whether their spending is off these books.  Think about it: there are at least 20 Catholic Churches in my city of 300.000.  I can’t imagine that their expenses are less than several hundred thousand per church.  At that rate, the churches in the United States must take at least $50 million to run.   That’s probably a very low estimate for one country with a moderate Catholic population.   The expenses, if anything, seem small.

    What I’d like to know is how much of the money, worldwide, comes from the faithful, and what the total giving is from all organizations the members support.

    This isn’t pro or anti this budget or the Church.  I just don’t think these numbers are surprising, or particularly deplorable, or detailed enough to draw any conclusions. 

  • jdm8

    It would help to go up the comment chain for context.  Guest originally said:

    “There’s nothing I would like to see happen more than a global institution that gave over 100 billion dollars to healthcare and charity go under. ”

    Suggesting that providing the health care was some kind of charitable act.

  • Gus Snarp

    If I was trying to say I needed charity, I’d have said that. Please try to read the words on the screen, not what you want them to say. I am saying one thing and one thing only: Catholic hospitals, health networks, universities, and school are not charities, they are businesses.

  • Gus Snarp

    Can you show me that there is a charitable contribution covering 75% of patient expenses in Catholic hospitals or or tuition at Catholic universities?

  • Gus Snarp

    This comment actually gets at the failings of the article. Catholic hospitals and universities operate mostly independently of the church, and are run as separate businesses with their own revenues and expenses. Does it even make sense to look at them as Church spending? Maybe to some extent they can be considered subsidiaries if you look at the Church as a larger business, but it’s very hard to look just at expenses and learn anything without a similar breakdown of revenues or any sense of how revenues and expenses are segregated among the various entities.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    Actually, it’s 66ish%.

  • Gus Snarp

    Pedantry is no replacement for facts. Do you have the financial data to back up those numbers or did you make them up out of thin air and they have no relationship whatsoever to reality?

  • Normandyso

     Not the Federal Government, the Rethuglikons in Congress, who are totally owned by the corporatocracy.

  • Normandyso

     Gotta keep the korpulent kweens in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.

  • Normandyso

     Gus, you are making too much sense. We love you anyways!

  • Normandyso

     LOL

  • Cat lady

    I don’t understand – I thought hospitals, etc. took in enough fees and insurance and government payments to come at least close to breaking even.  If the RCC is spending in addition about 100 billion on such, they really do need some bigtime financial advice.  These figures don’t add up.

  • RobertoTheChi

    You can not be serious about the Catholic Church not causing harm. Have you never heard of the horrible things they’re doing in Africa with peddling the “condoms don’t stop diseases” bullshit? The harm they are causing women with their archaic beliefs? I could go one, but surely you have heard of all of these things.

  • Stev84

    It’s possible that the money they claim they are spending isn’t theirs in the first place

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I get scholarships from my liberal arts college, but they are most definitely not a charity!
    It’s a business. I pay them and I get an education. I greatly appreciate their scholarships and you could consider a scholarship to be a charitable act, but that does not make them a charity. That’s like calling a grocery store a charity for giving out coupons.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    The church should sell off its health care and education assets.  I am content to see them continue to raise money to maintain  their architecture, art, and documents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/theAccidentalHousewife Leah Elzinga

    Being “able” to re-mortgage your home to pay for health services is NOT the same thing as not needing help.  The implication that needing/accepting help in what is often an impossible situation is somehow “less than” is offensive.  When was the last time that you had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital fees?  Until you find yourself  in that position, probably best not to judge.  And to be clear, isn’t that a basic tenet of christianity: Judge not, lest ye be judged ?  I might be an atheist, but it’s tough to argue that logic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/theAccidentalHousewife Leah Elzinga

     or the Catholic-run pharmacy in my town that refused to sell birth control.  Very helpful, thank you.  Conscientious rights = fun times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/theAccidentalHousewife Leah Elzinga

     These are simply the expenses associated with.  This doesn’t take into account the income that they accrue or whether they break even, make a profit, etc.  So while they might spend $98.6B I suppose there’s every chance that they are still bringing in, say $150B, resulting in a profit.

  • Scott Ferguson

    Yeah I think these assholes could afford to pay tax.

  • geo

    The Catholic church is the biggest charity in the world.

    How many mouths do the atheists feed, again?

  • Masarweh

    sorry we you don’t say about the ware in the whole world, 2% from US army expanses its enough to feed  the whole Africa 

  • Masarweh

    sorry why you don’t say about the ware in the whole world, 2% from US army expanses its enough to feed  the whole Africa 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eugene-Edward-Yeo/1163041810 Eugene Edward Yeo

    Ah, so we’re asking for sources now? Tell me, where are the sources sited in this article?

    That’s right, there are none. They “estimate”.

    In other words, they “guess”. Shameful.


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