April 25, 2005

Will U.S. Catholics keep giving?


By Steve Johnson

Updated: 9:47 a.m. ET April 25, 2005
While the 80 million American Catholics make up only 6 percent of their church's membership worldwide, their financial contributions as much as a third of the Vatican's annual fund-raising for the pontiff's charities has long given them a special place at the Vatican.

But a combination of changing demographics, sex abuse scandals and disputes with Rome over issues such as married clergy, female priests and homosexuality could threaten that status.

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made his reputation as the Vatican's enforcer of church doctrine, and early indications are that he intends to emphasize strict adherence to those church teachings. If he does, many liberal American Catholics may fight back with the strongest weapon they have their pocketbooks.

The demographic squeeze has been building for decades each year, there are fewer and fewer nuns and priests available to provide low-wage labor to run church institutions. In 1965, there were 180,000 Catholic nuns in the United States. Today there are fewer than 80,000, with an average age of about 69. The number of parishes without priests has increased five-fold in the same period.

Now those workers must be replaced with lay workers, at more expensive lay salaries, putting the squeeze on church finances.

But the clergy sex abuse scandal is an even more immediate threat. According to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks abuse cases in each diocese nationwide, the scandal has cost the church more than $700 million, although it is unclear how much of that was covered by insurance.

Posted by kshaw at April 25, 2005 04:32 PM