The Economist has a story assembling hard figures and best guesses on the size and state of the complex, opaque finances of the Catholic Church. Some figures from the report:

  • 6,800 is the number of Catholic schools  in America (5% of the national total)

  • 630 is the number of Catholic hospitals (11% of the national total) plus a similar number of smaller health facilities

  • 244 is the number of Catholic colleges and universities.

  • Seven of the leading 25 part-time law school programmes in America are Catholic

  • A quarter of the 100 top-ranked hospitals are Catholic

  • 1m peopler are estimated to work for Catholic institutions (Wal-Mart employs about 2m)

  • The church is the largest single charitable organisation in the country.

  • 65,000 paid staff work for Catholic Charities

  • 10m people are aided by Catholic Charities each year

  • $4.7 billion was given to the poor by Catholic Chariteis in 2010

  • 62% of that came from local, state and federal government agencies

The Economist estimates the following financial breakdown for the Church:

  • $170 billion is the estimated expenditure of church entities in 2010

  • 57% of this goes on health-care networks

  • 28% goes to colleges

  • 6% to parish and diocesan day-to-day operations

  • 2.7% to national charitable activities

  • $10 per week is the estimated contribution of American Catholics

Americans are the financial backbone of the global church:

  • 60% of the global church’s wealth comes from the United States

  • The United States is the largest contributor to Rome, ahead of Germany, Italy and France. Everything from renovations to St Peter’s Basilica to funding for the Pontifical Gregorian University is largely paid for with American money.

The piece is colored by the irritable narrowness the Economist sometimes falls into when examining institutions motivated by non-economic considerations, but its broad call for greater financial transparency strikes me as a good one. Here is yet another task for today’s church.

Update: Mark Gray notes a major error: “I’ve examined the math a bit more in  The Economist  piece and discovered a significant problem. The story overestimates annual Catholic Church offertory by $4.6 billion or 50% because they assume Mass-attending individuals  give an average of $10 per week (for data see  pg. 43 ) rather than  households .”

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