Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mormon and Catholic Finances: An Introduction

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as America’s most prosperous religion, a term that is often left undefined and almost impossible to measure.  As a first effort to quantify the Mormon Church finances, I compare a statement from “Time Magazine” (“Mormons Inc.: The Secret of America's Most Prosperous Religion”), as quoted by the AP and posted to “Catholic Answers Forums.”

Time lists the church's assets as $12 billion in U.S. meeting houses and temples; $5 billion in meeting houses and temples in foreign countries; $6 billion in unspecified investments; $5 billion in ranch and farm real estate and $1 billion in "schools, etc."

Of its annual income of $5.9 billion, the vast majority -- $5.3 billion -- comes from tithing. Of that, $4.9 billion comes from church members living in the United States.

“The Economist” describes the financial position of the Catholic Church (“The Catholic church in America: Earthly concerns,” The Economist, Aug 18th 2012.)

The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). We think 57% of this goes on health-care networks, followed by 28% on colleges, with parish and diocesan day-to-day operations accounting for just 6% and national charitable activities just 2.7% (see chart). In total, Catholic institutions employ over 1m people, reckons Fred Gluck, a former McKinsey managing partner and co-founder of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a lay organisation seeking to improve the way the church is run. For purposes of secular comparison, in 2010 General Electric’s revenue was $150 billion and Walmart employed roughly 2m people.

Parenthetically, the “The Economist” article is something of a hit piece, dismissing the charitable work done by the Catholic Church in America with in the introductory sentence, “OF ALL the organisations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church: its schools and hospitals provide a lifeline for millions.”  The blood letting begins in the next sentence.  “Yet even taking these virtues into account, the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess.”  The author never describes the process he used to weigh the good and the bad; that the measurement is correct is taken as a given.  The rest of the article describes the financial misdeeds of the Catholic Church. 

The financial numbers of the two Churches are not directly comparable.  “Time Magazine” gives a balance sheet and income statement summary.  “The Economist” uses a list of expenditures.  Assuming that income of the Mormon Church roughly equals expenditures, tentative observations can be made.  The Catholic Church spends 28 times more in the United States than the Mormon Church spends in the world.  This multiple may well be exaggerated because Catholic health-care networks, a fine system of hospitals, operates both as a for fee hospital and a charitable organization.  These hospitals care for one in six patients in the United States and employ more than a half million full time employees (“Catholic Health Care in the United States,” January 2013).  Twenty eight percent of Catholic Church spending is on its colleges while the Mormon Church’s universities account for $1 billion in assets.  Mormon’s are not alone in their charitable giving or as recipients of criticism that fails to enumerate their charitable acts.

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