Billions of Dollars of Catholic Revenue Should be Tapped to Fund Sex Abuse Crisis

The sex abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church threatens to break the back of its financial structures without an urgent rethink of how as much as an estimated $500bn of its wealth in Australia is handled, according to a former senior adviser to the faith’s bishops. Economist Brendan Long has warned the complex structures of the church could lead to enduring huge deficits in many parishes and dioceses despite the wealth of the church’s broader economic assets in Australia. However, much of the estimated wealth is tied up in complex structures that are out of the hands of the bishops, who are facing falling church numbers, the effects of the pandemic and a generational backlash caused by the abuse scandal. Dr Long estimates the total wealth of the church’s economic assets in Australia is huge, with a $23bn total annual revenue base that combines entities such as schools, hospitals, the Australian Catholic University and the St Vincent de Paul Society.

But while arms of the church are performing strongly, mainstream activities such as daily parish life have been under sustained pressure. Dr Long is a senior research fellow at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and is a former adviser to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The $500bn estimate is based on the wealth needed to generate the $23bn worth of total annual revenue among the wealthy arms of the church. It does not factor in some costs. Dr Long has previously raised the spectre of Catholic hospitals and schools paying a 1 per cent levy to compensate abuse victims and says there is a concentration of wealth in the three big archdioceses of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. “The real economic value of the church lies in the income streams that can be generated by the operative use of assets held,” he writes in Encountering God, a theological book examining the role of churches in modern society.

Dr Long said his updated financial analysis was conducted before the winding down of Catholic Church Insurance (CCI), which he said was causing “absolute chaos” close to the end of the financial year. “However, in some ways the paper predicts the CCI collapse by indicating that the costs of dealing with historical sexual abuse claims are increasing and threaten to break the back of the church financially,’’ he said. “The question is where do we go from here? Well, I provided my own solution – think about levying the income streams of the church defined broadly, real flowing rivers of gold, to steady the ship and ensure that the full costs of dealing with child sexual abuse are sustainably funded.” Dr Long said the gross revenue of Catholic education in Australia was $13.7bn in 2019, and the revenue from seven Catholic health providers was $7.8bn in 2020-21.

He argued the total revenue of Catholic hospitals, St Vincent de Paul and the ACU was about $9bn a year. “These organisations could, if they chose, decide to make a fiscal contribution to deal with our wicked problem,” he said. “They have the financial capacity to do this. So, the reality is that we don’t have in Australia the poor church Pope Francis wants. “What we have is one part of the church rapidly going broke and another very rich, in fiscal terms, something of a pantomime horse.” Dr Long writes that a key issue is that while the church in Australia is substantially wealthy, a large part of the corporate revenues flow to bodies that have independence under canon law. “So, a bishop cannot just access these revenue streams to offset the fiscal costs of responding to sexual abuse,’’ he says.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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