Catholics “Uneasy” of Church Finances

According to a new survey released on Monday, a growing number of Catholic churchgoers fear the financial effects of the clergy sex abuse scandal are impeding the church’s ability to minister to its flock. At the same time, a separate survey found that the sex abuse crisis has had little impact on Mass attendance.

Frank Butler, director of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, sponsor of the survey, said the study of 803 Roman Catholics who attend Mass at least twice a month finds a “growing uneasiness” with the way the church handles its money.

Butler explained that the church raised about the same amount of money in 2004 as it did in previous years, but the offerings came from a fewer number of congregants.

“The economy and the scandal may have cut into the number of donors, but the abuse crisis revealed for most Catholics how little they knew about how the church is managed,” he said, according to USA Today.

Specifically, 38 percent of the respondents said selling property is acceptable, 26 percent said special collections are favored, 35 percent said they would rather see their diocese declare bankruptcy than cut services or close parishes.

Although the sex abuse scandal erupted in early 2002, the full financial affects of the cases have yet to be unleashed. Just last year, the diocese of Orange in California paid out the largest sum to its abuse victims at some $150 million dollars. According to the Washington Post, the church faces $900 million in costs for legal settlements and care and counseling for victims of abusive priests.

Three dioceses declared bankruptcy in light of the financial burdens, and many more closed down churches in their jurisdiction in light of the scandal. Massachusetts alone closed down a fifth of its institutions, although the archdiocese claimed the church closures had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandals.

According to the Zogby International Poll taken in December, 65% of the catholic parishioners say the financial effect of the scandal will impede the church’s ability to meet its mission, as opposed to 55% who said likewise in a survey conducted in 2002.

Seventy percent of those polls also said the church should be more accountable with its finances, compared with 65% in 2002. 71% wanted public annual audits of every level of church finances, also up 5 percentage points from 2002.

The Zogby poll also found that 14% of those polls stopped or decreased giving at the parish level, as compared to 12% in 2002.

Meanwhile, surprisingly, a separate study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that the sex abuse scandal had little impact on Mass attendance.

The series of 10 separate polls conducted between Sept 2000 when the scandal began and September 2004 found that a third of Catholics attend Mass at least once a week.

"These surveys indicate little if any change in the percentage of adult Catholics who say they attend Mass every week," said Mark Gray, a center researcher, to AP.

The highest level of regular attendance was in February 2002, when some 39 percent of congregants attended mass at least once a week. Then the number dropped between 31 percent and 35 percent respectively. Statistically, the margin of error for each poll ranged from plus or minus 2.2. percentage points to plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.