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Why Are Catholics Cheapskates Regarding Giving?

August 7, AD2016 31 Comments

Birgit - offering

What Jesus Said to Us About Giving

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us about giving, “Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, and inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be required of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12: 33-34, 48)

The Current Reality

Today, a group of laity at a Catholic parish meets for some catechesis and fellowship. The topic focuses on being a loving witness to Christ through the way we live our lives. After a short presentation, there are a few discussion questions covering subtopics from the presentation, such as how we might show our family and friends that we love them; praying not only for our family and friends but for our enemies as well; helping the poor; and…tithing. Then a funny thing happens during the small group discussion—no one talks about charitable giving or tithing. It simply is ignored. “Just look away, ignore it and maybe it won’t come up. (Donations are my personal business anyway.)” Why is it that some Catholics just do not like to talk about or even think about the concept of religious giving, much less about tithing per se?

For over three decades in my CPA practice, I was blessed to help a variety of individuals with their tax compliance and planning needs. I never did a statistical analysis of my clients’ giving habits, but I can tell you this: with a few notable exceptions, most of my non-Catholic clients donated far more to their churches than did the Catholics. As it turns out, my anecdotal evidence is supported by multiple research studies.

Now, before you press the “send” key with an angry response to this article, please humor me as I explain my thinking on all of this. Yes, I know that many give far more to the Church and other worthy organizations than some averages from research would suggest. That must mean, however, that many more give far less than the averages.

Research Shows

The Philanthropy Roundtable analyzed data from a study done by Empty Tomb that showed religious donations in the late 1990s by Catholics, at 1.5% of gross income, running about half that of mainline Protestants, and about one-third to one-fourth of what evangelical and charismatic/Pentecostal Christians were giving.

But, you may be thinking, these are old statistics! Surely it must be different today? Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, discussed research showing that only 1.9% of American Catholics were tithing, while about 5% of Americans as a whole tithed. In 2007, Christians of all denominations in the U.S. gave an average of just over $1,400 to their church and other charities, while Catholics as a subgroup of that population gave just under $1,000—about the same as non-Christians.

Karl Keating of Catholic Answers subsequently wrote about research done by the Presbyterian Church USA that showed the average Catholic gives about one-half of what the average Evangelical gives, and a bit less than that percentage in comparison with average mainline Protestants. Similarly, Notre Dame’s Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative (CSPRI) published a report based on a 2010 survey that shows Catholics are less generous in voluntary financial giving than other Christian groups in the U.S. Although the research shows varying ratios of our giving to other denominations’ giving, no matter how you look at it, we Catholics do not, on average, give as much to the Church as members of other denominations give to their churches.

The Spirituality of Giving

Loye Young did a nice job of explaining the theology of giving in his Catholic Stand article with that title a couple of years ago, so I will not retread that ground. Religious giving is included in the broader concept of stewardship. Fr. Andrew Kemberling, Chair of the International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC), and Mila Glodava, coauthors of Making Stewardship a Way of Life, list the core values of stewardship on their parish website:

  • “Identity: We are God’s children…God created man in his image…The Catechism states: ‘man is created by God and for God, and God never ceases to draw man to himself.’
  • Trust: If we are God’s children…destine to return to God, we can trust that God will provide for all our needs. We need not worry about anything. Conversely, we also need to be trustworthy and honest in everything we do and entrusted to us. We need to be worthy of God’s trust…
  • Gratitude: God is the source of everything we are and have. We will not exist without Him. We need, therefore, to be grateful…Jesus is our model of gratitude. He gave thanks always. Father Andrew suggests making a “thank-God” list… [to] think more of what we have and not what we do not have.
  • Love: God loves us first. He created us in His image…when we sinned, He sent us his only Son to redeem us, and the Holy Spirit to sanctify us so that we can return to Him and see Him face to face in heaven…Now we need to return His love by loving Him back… [which] requires that we give. We express our love by giving of our time, talent and treasure.”

Why We Don’t Give

Those in the know, involved in research or working in the trenches doing fundraising, suggest a number of reasons for Catholic philanthropic behavior patterns. Some studies have suggested that, from a practical perspective, because many Catholic parishes are larger—some far larger—than many other denominations’ communities, there is less practical need to give more. The needs of the parish get spread out over a larger number of families. They also cite the fact that our priests are paid less than non-Catholic pastors and the fact that our facility costs are spread over multiple Masses compared to one worship service for the non-Catholics. Although there may be some truth in this, it does not really answer why we collectively are not inspired to give more than we do.

The CSPRI report on Catholic giving concludes that a lack of spiritual engagement with money is the biggest reason why our giving levels lag behind those of other groups. In other words, we tend to compartmentalize, keeping our money matters separate from faith matters, rather than looking at our money as something that is ALL a gift from God. Attaining this spiritual engagement—connecting the dots—requires proper formation, part of which comes through the messages delivered from the ambo, though. The CSPRI team notes that a fairly common approach used in parishes to address giving, known as the “pay the bills” method, generally results in less spiritual engagement. That seems reasonable—“pay the bills” promotes an attitude that is focused on doing the minimum necessary to get by—with respect not only to treasure, but also to time and talents.

What Can Be Done

The CSPRI report suggests that creating the context with an overarching parish mission and vision can inspire people to work toward something greater. This includes generating the awareness that money and the things we are blessed to have are gifts from God, and we are called to manage them appropriately as good stewards. But how do we generate this awareness among a broad cross section of the faithful? It seems that it would start with the pastors and their homilies, engaging the people in the pews, promoting deeper prayer lives and involvement in parish activities to enhance overall engagement in the Church.  It needs to include overcoming catechesis gaps that seem to exist in the Church in America today so we all understand the spiritual connection with money and things. The good news in this regard is that many great resources exist to help a parish get some traction in such culture changes, such as Fr. Kemberling’s book and the ICSC mentioned above.

Inspiring increased giving deserves some attention.  If we are looking for inspiration to give more, consider this: the folks at Empty Tomb have estimated that we in the Catholic Church could generate tens of billions of dollars more funding if we bumped up our giving up a bit.  This money could be used to carry out the corporal works of mercy for our less fortunate brothers and sisters, for evangelization and for more thorough formation of our members—in short for carrying out the Great Commission. What better way to give witness to the Great Commission than a bit of sacrificial giving to support it? Think about the possibilities here—we are not talking about huge amounts individually, but together, as the Body of Christ, enough to change the lives of billions of people—if only we gave just a tad more.

Giving as Individuals

On an individual basis, we might want to consider some prayerful reflection and introspection, asking the Holy Spirit to open the ears of our hearts to the Truth and God’s will for us, as we ponder questions such as the following:

  • Do I yearn to have wealth, status or approbation more than I yearn to love God with all my heart, soul and being?
  • Am I attached to my wealth, status, and the opinions of others, or can I be indifferent to them—indifferent in the sense that if they bring me closer to God, they are good for the time being, but if they draw me away from Him, I need to get rid of them?
  • Eusebius tells us that we naturally dwell on what we desire—what do I dwell on—my desire for God and conformity with His will, or something else?
  • Have my possessions made me a “slave” due to my inordinate concern about them and their potential loss, which taints my judgment?
  • How do I tangibly show my love for God?
  • At my death, when God asks me to account for how I handled all the gifts He gave me, what kind of response will I be able to give Him?
  • How do I use my gifts from God to help those less fortunate than I?
  • Do I trust in God’s providence for me—that He knows what is best for me?
  • What am I afraid of? Our Lord tells us not to be afraid, but to trust in Him, and to focus on Him and on the inexhaustible treasure of heaven—so why am I anxious about the trappings of this short life on earth?
  • Can I, as St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed, ask God to teach me to “give and not to count the cost?”
  • Can I find a way to increase my giving incrementally over a few years to get to a level that I know in my heart is what I should do?

It really is true—God will NOT be outdone in generosity—we just need to take the first step and see for ourselves.  Ask anyone who already is tithing and they will tell you all about it.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Dom is a Benedictine-educated cradle Catholic, a revert to the faith, and is an Oblate of St. Benedict. In addition to consulting to management in the CPA profession and elsewhere, he and his wife of 40+ years attempt to live according to the three pillars of Church authority--Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. They are both active at their parish where he is an Instituted Acolyte and a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus.

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