Research on the Cost of Operating American Catholic Parishes and Schools

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 01/01/1992
End Date: 
Sun, 12/31/1995

Despite difficulty in locating reliable financial information, there has been a widespread perception of a financial crisis among Catholic parishes, dioceses and schools. The purpose of this project was to gather, evaluate, and disseminate accurate financial information about the nation's largest religious body. The chief investigator, Joseph Harris, studied the fiscal structure of a representative sample of the 19,971 U.S. Catholic parishes and the 8,508 U.S. Catholic elementary and secondary schools. These data enabled researchers to analyze parishes and individual givers within them. The results indicate that overall household contributions in the Sunday collection grew modestly (ranging from 3.2% to 5.6%) between 1991 and 1993, and varied by geographical location. One- third of the parishes experienced parallel declines in giving and population. However, parishes with decreasing membership frequently saw a significant rise in average household contributions. Giving remains very skewed, with one-quarter of the households giving three-quarters of parish income. Results from studying the schools show that parishes with schools tended to be much larger than parishes without schools but their average annual household giving was only slightly higher, $281 compared with $242. School support provided by parishes has shrunk relative to overall costs. Harris concludes that there is no evidence of a crisis in Catholic giving, and he argues that Catholic giving readily could be improved. Increases in giving seem to be related to parishioner attitudes and religious convictions rather than factors such as parish locale, size, and whether or not the parish operates a school. (SM)