How to Donate Money to the Church Without Accidentally Giving to Bishops

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by Ryan Ellis  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 24, 2020   

Prelates funded by collection plate donations

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It's "Bishop's Lenten Appeal" time in parishes across the country, which means your Sunday Mass homily gets hijacked by the chancery in order to shake down Catholics for money.

There's no doubt that ordinary Catholics are fed up with the corrupt hierarchy of bishops. Donations to their annual "Lenten appeals" are plummeting. People no longer trust the bishops not to use the money on expensive lawyers and public relations consultants, or on compensating victims of homoclerical sexual abuse, or to create "slush funds" like Uncle Ted McCarrick and Bp. Michael Bransfield had. For all ordinary Catholics know, a contribution to their bishop might end up in a white envelope payola scheme or in a suitcase bound for Vatican bribes and hush money.

In making this decision, millions of ordinary Catholic families have taken the first step — resolving to deprive their bishops of money until the badly needed reforms the bishops refuse to make are implemented.

But that's not enough. Most Catholics are unaware that the bishop taxes the general collection at every parish. That's right — if you are putting money in the collection basket on Sunday, you are funding your local bishop. This is true even if you studiously avoid every second collection and every Lenten appeal. 

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Under canon law (Canon 1263), "the diocesan Bishop, after consulting the finance committee and the council of priests, has the right to levy on public juridical persons [that's canon law for 'your parish'] subject to his authority a tax for the needs of the diocese. This tax must be moderate and proportionate to their income ... ." 

This takes the form of a flat tax on the general collection at your parish. In my home diocese of Arlington in Virginia, this tax is 8%. Across the river in the archdiocese of Washington, I hear it's 12%. It's probably somewhere in that range in your diocese, too. If you've never heard of this, it's because your pastor and your bishop are not eager to tell you about it. They'd rather you never know.

If your goal in giving to your parish is to also fund your bishop, this isn't a problem. But if you're giving to your parish and intentionally trying to avoid giving money to your bishop, it is. So what's an ordinary Catholic to do?

If you don't feel compelled to give to your parish, you are not off the hook. You have to come up with some other way to donate to the Church.

One answer is not to stop giving to the Church entirely. One of the precepts of the Church (a list of things all Catholics must do in order to be in good standing as Catholics) is to support the material needs of the Church as befits their facts and circumstances.

We don't have a strict tithe like some Protestants do, nor synagogue membership dues and high holiday tickets like the Jews. But we do have a general obligation which we need to take seriously. It's laid out in canon 222, which says that "the Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers."

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Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter

Notice, however, that there is nothing in there which binds us to give to any bishop's Lenten appeal, to any second collection, or even to our parish at all. It's up to us how much to donate, and where in the Church to give our hard-earned money to. So if you want to support the Church, and especially if you want to support your parish, but you don't want to give to the bishop, what should you do?

If you want to keep giving to your parish, you should contact your pastor directly. I've found it's best to do this by phone, as he won't want this conversation in writing. Every parish has a non-general collection account or two which is not taxed by the bishop. It might be a repairs collection, or a poor box fund, or a votive candle fund. Ask him how to give to one of those at your parish, and make sure that it's not part of the diocesan tax.

If you don't feel compelled to give to your parish, you are not off the hook. You have to come up with some other way to donate to the Church. Here, I would avoid things that are under the control of the bishops. That means no second collections, and certainly no groups like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, or the other boondoggles routinely flagged by the Lepanto Institute.

Your informed conscience (under the spiritual guidance of a good and holy priest) should be your guide. 

Rather, you might give to traditional Catholic religious orders like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, or to another good apostolate of your choosing free of the Catholic hierarchy. 

Some have suggested giving to unofficial but certainly Catholic causes like Church Militant. It's far less clear to me that this fulfills the precept to support the Church, but there is nothing official I can point to saying this is so. As with anything in this precept, your informed conscience (under the spiritual guidance of a good and holy priest) should be your guide. 

In conclusion, don't let anyone guilt you into giving to your bishop — either directly through a Lenten appeal or a second collection, or indirectly through your parish's general collection tax. You are free to support the Church materially in any way you see fit — just so long as you do it.

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