Table: The U.S. Catholic Church: How It Works
April 15, 2002
The Roman Catholic Church, with some 64 million members and thousands
of affiliated operations, is the largest and most influential nongovernment
organization in the U.S. But the Church is not a unified corporation:
It is a decentralized organization with thousands of legally and financially
separate entities. Its 20,000 Catholic churches raise some $7.5 billion
annually. A primer on the Church's hierarchy:
The Pope appoints the bishops who run the U.S. Church and sets policies--including
rules on who may become a priest. The U.S. is one of the wealthiest Catholic
countries and a top contributor to the Vatican. Legally, the Vatican is
a sovereign state, beyond the reach of U.S. law.
THE PAPAL NUNCIO
The Nuncio, who cannot be an American, is the Papal representative to
the U.S. Based in Washington, he reviews all U.S. priests nominated for
bishop before forwarding names to Rome for final approval.
THE U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
The Conference is a kind of steering committee for the U.S. Church, made
up of the 375 U.S. Bishops. With a budget of some $150 million, it speaks
for the U.S. Church on policy matters such as abortion and welfare and
has committees on everything from worship to domestic policy. The Conference,
funded by the dioceses, does not have any authority over them.
These so-called princes of the Church have the ultimate power over its
future, since they elect the Pope. But the U.S. has a small role in the
College of Cardinals.
The key administrative unit of the Church, it comprises many local parishes
and is headed by a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal. Everything from ordinations
of priests to education is run at the diocesan level. There are 194 in
the U.S. Although each diocese is a separate legal entity, abusive priests
shuffled from parish to parish may extend the trail of liability.
The U.S. has some 20,000 parishes, and each individual church depends
on its members' weekly donations, the major source of funding. Congregations
are growing larger, averaging 3,000 members, even as the number of priests
is falling, straining resources. At the same time, the ranks of U.S. Catholics
are increasing with the arrival of new immigrants.
The Church is the largest operator of private schools in the U.S., with
over 2.6 million students enrolled in its 6,900 elementary schools and
some 1,200 high schools, costing roughly $10 billion a year. Most of the
elementary schools are attached to local parishes, while high schools
are often run by a Catholic religious order, such as the Jesuits or Christian
Brothers. Although tuition has been rising sharply, schools still receive
large subsidies from the Church.
There are 230 Catholic colleges and universities with a combined total
of 670,000 students. Most colleges are sponsored by a religious congregation,
like the Jesuits, who have 28 colleges--including Georgetown, Boston College,
and Holy Cross. Just 11 are sponsored by a diocese, and only Catholic
University in Washington is directly sponsored by the Church. There are
few direct financial ties between most Catholic colleges and the Church.
Most are run by a lay board of trustees. Like other private colleges,
tuition is the primary source of revenue, though some have sizable endowments,
like Notre Dame's $2.8 billion.
The nonprofit health-care system includes 637 hospitals, accounting for
17% of all U.S. hospital admissions. The Church also runs 122 home health-care
agencies and nearly 700 other service providers, including assisted living,
adult day care, and senior housing. The hospitals alone have annual expenses
of $65 billion and account for 5% of U.S. health-care spending.
Catholic Charities USA consists of 1,400 agencies that run soup kitchens,
temporary shelters, child care, and refugee resettlement. In 1999, Catholic
Charities had collective revenues of $2.34 billion. Most of that comes
from state and local governments and from program fees. The Church accounts
for only about 12% of income.
Data: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University;
National Catholic Educational Assn.; Catholic Health Assn.; U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops; Catholic Charities USA