Hold off on that Tithing Boycott Crusade!

As an American I am in love with the idea of easy fixes, etc. So I suggested below the withholding of tithes in corrupt dioceses. I spoke too soon.

Fr. Paul (a very fine priest) writes in my comments box:

I just took over as pastor of a parish that was deeply divided by the arrogance of the previous pastor. Nothing scandalous, he was just a jerk. Several members of the parish organized a boycott – collections went down and the diocesan annual appeal met only half the goal for two years running. Meanwhile, the pastor doubled the payroll. In two years, the parish managed to accumulate $100k in debt, mainly owed to the diocese.

So tonight, I get to break it to the parish council that we’re screwed: either I beg the diocese to forgive the debts (not likely), or we cut staff and bundle up on Sundays because we can’t repair the heaters.

That’s what boycotts do. And they’re useless on the diocesan level. If we don’t meet our assessments and appeals, it comes out of the parish collection anyway. IOW: you’ll only end up destroying your local parish.

I replied:

Fr. Paul:

What if you tithe *only* to your local parish and stipulate the money can only be used in-house?

Fr. Paul writes back:

Mark: it can’t be done. The diocese takes its “tax” regardless. First, we have our “assessment” which is based on offertory – something like 10%. The catch is that it is based on “estimated” offertory, which means if you have a situation like I do, where the offertory dropped off 30-50% because of the previous pastor, I still get taxed on what we should have been bringing in.

Then we have our Annual Appeal, which is ostensibly independent (the diocese asks each family to send in 1% of gross income), but will be assessed from the parish if not met. It still has to be paid, and if a pastor blows it off, he can look for another job.

Lovely, isn’t it?

One catch about tithing only to the parish: in some cases you can give directly to projects in the parish without it being taxed. In my case, people give to the “school of religion” which is not taxed. But general offertory income is considered taxable.

A better alternative, and more of an answer to your original blog, is to give to “foundations” that can be targeted. My family has a CRUT (charitable remainder trust) that is currently with the diocese but we’re about to switch over to a “Catholic Foundation”. This foundation is independent of the diocese (but run by priests within it). It has two advantages: 1) it is protected from sex-abuse settlements, and 2) we can “target” it if we so choose (e.g. designating the funds to be used for seminary or scholarships or some such).

So, for those thinking about boycotting, two things: 1) don’t decrease the tithe to your local parish. You’ll only destroy it (unless, of course, you consider that a good thing). 2) If you are not happy with your bishop, then look into targeted tithing rather than the Annual Appeal. It will still hurt your parish (so maybe increase your local giving), but it will send a definite message to the bishop.

No easy answers here.

One final comment: the liability insurance rates in my diocese, used mainly to cover sex-abuse cases, have gone up 444%. Plus, we couldn’t get as much as we had in the past. And we’re a “fortunate” diocese that doesn’t have the problems of Boston or LA. Guess how those increased premiums will be paid? From the health insurance premiums that parishes pay on employees. IOW, from the parish collection.

We’re all in this together.