Survey Shows Catholics Who Give Most Want More Church Accountability

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service
February 9, 2006

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics who give more than $5,000 a year to the church are more critical than other Catholics about the church's financial accountability practices, according to a new survey commissioned by FADICA.

"Only 12 percent of larger parish donors rated the church above average in keeping them informed on the use of their donations, while over a third of typical parishioners rated church reporting practices above average," according to a survey analysis prepared by Charles E. Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University's College of Commerce and Finance.

The survey, conducted in November and December 2005 by Zogby International, was the fourth annual "Catholic donor attitude survey" commissioned by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, a Washington-based consortium of charitable foundations and individual donors interested in religious philanthropy.

Responses were received from 1,000 Catholics nationwide, but only the answers of the 787 people who identified themselves as regular churchgoers -- attending Mass at least three times a week -- were analyzed. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 4 percent.

High-giving donors made up 10 percent of the sample of regular churchgoers, Zech said.

"The findings from the 2005 survey confirm our conclusions from the 2004 survey: The financial implications of the clergy sexual abuse scandal have continued to linger," Zech said in his analysis.

"This is true for both the laity's expressed desire for greater church financial accountability and transparency and for the impact of the scandal on Catholics' willingness to support their church financially," he added.

FADICA estimated in a news release that U.S. Catholics contribute about $6 billion annually through the parish collection basket. But less than half (46 percent) of the survey respondents and 42 percent of the high-giving donors said they had "an adequate understanding" about how their donations were used.

Two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that annual independent audits of church finances should be done on the diocesan level; 63 percent said such audits should take place annually in each parish.

Asked what they would consider an "acceptable way" for a diocese to pay for financial settlements related to clergy sex abuse, survey respondents were given five options and could choose as many as they wanted. Forty-four percent said there should be a special diocesanwide collection for that purpose, and 38 percent said the settlements should be paid by the sale of church property.

About one-third of the respondents agreed with each of three other options -- reducing the number of diocesan program offerings (33 percent), declaring bankruptcy (32 percent) and closing parishes (32 percent).

Among the high-giving donors, more than half (52 percent) favored a diocesan collection to pay sex abuse settlements, but less than a quarter (23 percent) said it would be acceptable to cut diocesan programs.

Zech concluded his analysis by recommending a number of "constructive steps" that could be taken to help U.S. Catholics "become more familiar and informed about the financial dimensions of Catholic life." They included:

-- Publication of a "reader-friendly" financial statement annually by each parish and diocese.

-- Parish and diocesan forums at which Catholics could discuss financial issues with the bishop, pastor and/or finance council members.

-- A study of U.S. Catholic fundraising practices at all levels, "with a view toward better national coordination of nationwide appeals, more complete accounting on where funds are going, improved methods of fundraising beyond the traditional collection basket, better ways for Catholic foundations and charitable agencies to work together, and bringing in people with expertise in fundraising."

-- Centralized resources in dioceses to help parishes in development and fundraising, including online financial management training for members of diocesan and parish finance councils through the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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