Withholding Tithes from the Church is Heretical


In America, we are conditioned to vote with our dollars. The classical economic concept of Adam Smith‘s “invisible hand” is deeply engrained in American society, with the concomitant “consumer sovereignty” mentality. However, redirecting our tithes and offerings away from the local parish or diocese is theft, and even heretical, according to Catholic doctrine.

Michael Voris has recently called for traditional Catholics to stop giving to Catholic parishes and dioceses that no longer adhere to the Catholic faith. Shane Schaetzel calls the effort “The Great Catholic Boycott.”

I have great respect for Mr. Voris and his ChurchMilitant.tv work. Mr. Voris is a tireless, uncompromising advocate for the fullness of the Catholic faith and is an enemy of modernism and heresy. Although his tone and language are often harsh and strident, and he is occasionally wrong, he has been, to use Pope Francis’ words, “shaking things up” for a long time, and in a much-needed way.

However, Mr. Voris’ call to withhold tithes is gravely erroneous. A boycott of Catholic parishes and dioceses evinces confusion about the purposes of giving and Catholic doctrine surrounding the tithes and first fruit offerings. As I have said before, “The primary purpose of giving is to save the giver’s soul.” Further, tithing is based on the Catholic doctrine of first fruits sacrifices as a part of worship. Seen in their proper light, the canonical oblications of the faithful to support the clergy and assist the poor are incidental to God’s call to conversion and command to worship.

Heretics and schisimatics have from time to time withheld tithes and offerings in protest against the Church. As an early example, the 13th century Albigensians taught that the tithe (giving 10% of income to the Church) was not necessary, and that first fruits and oblations could be given outside the Church. For those Albigensians returning to the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III required a “Profession of Faith” that, among other things, affirmed that the tithe must be paid to the clergy. See [Pope Innocent III, Letter entitled Fitts exempio, to Archbishop of Terraco, dated Dec. 18, 1208, at 427]. (“We believe that tithes and first fruits and oblations should be paid to the clergy according to the Lord’s command.”) The Albigensian view was condemned at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. [Blunt, John Henry, Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought at 16 (1874)]. (The relevant portion of the Council dealing with the Albigenses/Cathars has been lost to antiquity. See [Third Lateran Council – 1179 A.D., Introduction].

The Council of Constance infallibly repudiated tithe and offering boycotts, even when the boycott is well-intentioned. In response to John Wycliffe, the Council specifically forbade “each and every Catholic henceforth, under pain of anathema, to preach, teach, or hold . . . [that] people may withhold tithes, offerings and other private alms from unworthy disciples of Christ.” [Council of Constance, Session 15 (July 6, 1415), error 41]. See also, [Ibid., Session 8 (May 4, 1415), error 18] (condemning that “tithes are purely alms, and parishioners can withhold them at will on account of their prelates’ sins.”) Further, the Council condemned redirecting the tithe away from the secular clergy towards other ministries. [Ibid, error 38]. The Council’s decisions were affirmed and promlugated in Martin V’s bull Inter cunctas on February 22, 1418.

The Council of Trent was more blunt:

Those are not to be borne who, by various artifices, endeavour to withhold the tithes accruing to the churches ; nor those who rashly take possession of, and apply to their own use, the tithes which have to be paid by others; whereas the payment of tithes is due to God; and they who refuse to pay them, or hinder those who give them, usurp the property of another. Wherefore, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to whom it belongs to pay tithes, that they henceforth pay in full the tithes, to which they are bound in law, to the cathedral church, or to whatsoever other churches, or persons, they are lawfully due. And they who either withhold them, or hinder them (from being paid), shall be excommunicated; nor be absolved from this crime, until after full restitution has been made. It further exhorts all and each, that, of their Christian charity, and the duty which they owe to their own pastors, they grudge not, out of the good things that are given them by God, to assist bountifully those bishops and parish priests who preside over the poorer churches; to the praise of God, and to maintain the dignity of their own pastors who watch for them. [Council of Trent, Session XXV, Decree on Reformation, Chapter XII (Dec. 4, 1613)]

Were American bishops and priests doing a better job of teaching about stewardship in the first place, I suspect the “Great Catholic Boycott” would get much less traction. On the other hand, the effect of the boycott will be blunted, simply because Catholics are stingy givers in the first place. [See, e.g., Resources for American Christianity, Church Giving Tied To Gratitude And A Sense Of Mission (2009); Julia Duin, Giving in Different Denominations (2001); Generous Giving, Giving among Church Denominations (1993).]

Mr. Voris’ call to withhold giving to dioceses and parishes with errant bishops and priests, while understandable, should not be followed by Catholic faithful. However, his unceasing and tireless fraternal correction of errant prelates and preaching of the truth of the Catholic faith should be encouraged.

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63 thoughts on “Withholding Tithes from the Church is Heretical”

  1. I thank the author for his explanation.
    The bishops have put the faithful in this position through their deliberate actions, inactions, cowardice and deceitfulness.
    We are tired of donating our wages to support criminal activities and the defense of criminal activities. The only time my bishop wants to talk with me is when he wants money. My four letters/emails to him have gone unanswered. Complete silence.
    So, I pay to support this? I pay for his priests homosexual shenanigans?
    The Church is imploding, week after week. I may be wrong, but my wages go to faithful Catholic religious orders and monasteries. Not to support corrupt bishops and priests who have no intention of changing their lifestyle. That, I believe, is the greater sin.
    What has become of the Catholic Church?

  2. It seems to me that the tithe, formerly, was commanded and reinforced (as above, by Councils) where there was specific law enjoining the specific tithe. Church law no longer has any such specific injunction: Church law currently merely obliges the Catholic to support “the Church”. Hence the former obligation continues today under a different structure of obligation. Therefore, it is sufficient, to support some portion of the Church, to satisfy the explicit law of the Church. In this regard, ANY contributions to the Church for its support are “an oblation to God” in satisfaction of that foundational human obligation. Additional contributions to support the Church’s programs for this or that poor part of society are alms.

    In this day and age, where pastors have canonical obligations toward the people who live in their geographically defined parish, but laity have no concrete obligation to attend mass or any other act at their local parish (they can fully discharge all of their religious, liturgical, and moral obligations at other parishes), the notion of a mandate to support “your priest” is somewhat plastic. Yes, you have an obligation, but you also have some freedom to determine which parish gets the brunt of that obligation. So it seems to me. Nothing Young says above seems to directly contradict this, merely to gloss over the distinctions involved.

  3. Fr Paul McDonald

    It is forbidden by divine law to formally cooperate with heresy, that is to agree with it and willingly promote it. Further, material cooperation with the spreading of heresy or impurity is forbidden, that is, while not liking it or agreeing with it, to aid and abbet it, etc.
    So the above canons say that even bad clerics, while still holding office, must be supported, but no law of council or pope may licitly ask us to go against the Faith.

  4. Should we discuss what it costs the average family to drive to a decent liturgy an hour away? And to be involved in that parish a few days a week? And to eat en route? And to buy religion books and all academic books because Catholic schools teach modernism and CCD is a JOKE? And what it costs to drive a state away for kids to receive Confirmation because that’s a carrot that’s dangled until they are 16? And what it costs to have never been given the traditions of the Church and to be hunting and gathering all one can in order to find it and give it to their children in the absence of Catholic family, community, and culture surrounding us? And music lessons because all the banjos, burlap, and butterflies left us completely ignorant of what music should be? So at what point do I evaluate what I actually spend to simply be Catholic and do the job my local churches have NOT done in the past 50 years in addition to tithing? And then there will be the need to provide for my son’s education should he enter seminary because that is no free ride anymore. Honestly, wondering how this factors in because we are FAR, FAR beyond 10% of our time and money here.

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