And this is especially true if you focus on parish giving, as opposed to charitable contributions to Catholic orders, agencies, and organizations as a whole.
Of course, I should say at the outset that even if you decide that you can manage to tithe without depriving your children of what you justly owe them (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care etc.) it does not follow that "tithe" means "give the whole ten percent to the parish." There's nothing wrong with deciding to do so; but there's also nothing wrong with giving less to the parish in order to fund Catholic religious orders, Catholic pro-life ministries, and other Catholic charities who need our help. In other words, just because some people only give, say, 1% of their income to their parish doesn't mean they're not giving 9% elsewhere, and it's uncharitable to assume the worst.
Still, there's data out there which suggests that Catholics may not be doing a stellar job of supporting Catholic organizations, let alone their parishes. So, why is this? And what should be done?
Let's examine some possible reasons first:
1. The elephant in the living room. Yes, I'm talking about The Scandal. While some Catholics may have used the Scandal as an excuse to stop giving money, others really were hurt and embarrassed to discover that their dioceses were among those who moved predators, covered things up, and/or arranged for secret payouts to abuse victims. Imagine finding out that some of your parish's collection money was going to compensate the victims of a former pastor! The sense of betrayal that might create isn't going to disappear overnight; I've heard comments before from people who don't mind earmarking a donation for, say, a building project but who otherwise won't give to a parish out of frustration with how things were handled for so long.
2. No sense of belonging. It's not news that people will tend to give money to groups with whom they identify or to which they really belong. But I suspect that many Catholics in America, especially these days, see the parish as more of a necessary evil than a fellowship of like-minded believers whose company they enjoy. Some of this is exacerbated by the divisions among Catholics, such as the deep divide between so-called "Trads" and so-called "Neo-Caths;" these divisions make it hard for Catholics to see themselves as united in a bigger purpose, the call to holiness which includes within it the mandate to spread the Good News.
3. "No dogma, no dollars." That quote was popular when I was a teen (many, many years ago) but I think the sentiment is still out there. While it's easy to see this as a purely "Trad" notion, I think that there are lots of people who have never been to a Latin Mass yet who long for something more on Sunday than the institutionalized version of "Nephew Tommy's wisdom;" e.g., "Jesus is nice; you be nice too." Quite frankly, when one is fed a steady diet of "cheap grace," one gets into the habit of thinking that all grace, and indeed all religious blessings, are cheap and need little in the way of cash. This is especially true in churches where a fortune was once spent to install "Random Squares of Jell-O (tm)" stained glass windows and similar quality "art;" the parishioners get into the habit of thinking that the building and its accoutrements aren't worth much, and shouldn't need much money to keep going.
4. No idea what the parish actually costs. Related to number 3 above is this notion; it is the reverse of a complaint of mine, which is that parish priests seldom have any idea what family life costs or involves (leading them to assume that people can give more than they even earn, or that it's perfectly easy for a man working a full-time job to show up during the work week to help out with some parish initiative or other). On the side of the parishioners, though, there is similar ignorance. How much does the parish pay monthly for fixed bills, including a mortgage if there is one? How much does it pay for electricity and water and garbage collection? How much for any other regular expenses? How much, annually, for those stupid paper song books (and would the pastor buy better, permanent hymnals if the parish would come up with the one-time funds)? How much for the paid employees, including but not limited to the office staff/parish secretary, the DRE, the choir director and/or organist, etc.? How much for church cleaning and yard work if this isn't being done by parish volunteers?
I sometimes think that Catholics simply forget that our parishes have to pay for these things, and think of the money going into the collection basket as a sort of "extra" money from which our favorite reforms and improvements unaccountably fail to be funded.
5. Industrial age collection methods. Speaking of collection baskets--I realize that older Catholics are very used to them and would miss them if they disappeared; I also realize that there is a school of thought when it comes to fund-raising that suggests that nothing beats passing around a container, be it a basket, a hat, or any similar object, to get people to dig into their pockets. Still, even in my generation people are less and less accustomed to carrying cash or checks with them, and I know that the people younger than me have gotten so used to being able to pay for everything with either a debit or a credit card that they, too, don't often carry tons of cash (to say nothing of checks, which some people fear because of identity theft concerns). The parish solution? Ordinarily, to send out boxes and boxes and boxes of parish offering envelopes, which is supposed to remind people to plan their giving ahead of time, to place money or a check into the envelope sometime in the week before Sunday, and then to bring the already-filled envelope with them to Mass.
But people who don't even use cash or checks all that often are going to be inclined to remember to find and use envelopes every week because...why, exactly? And people who are rushing out the door on Sunday morning with a toddler and an infant in tow are going to recall that the envelope is in mom's purse, not mom's diaper bag which is all she grabs that morning--why, exactly?
If parishes really want to increase donations from younger Catholics, they might try a PayPal (tm) button on the parish web page, along with weekly or monthly email reminders via a free service like MailChimp. Oh, wait; the parish doesn't have a website--why, exactly?
I know there are more reasons for the lack of giving among Catholics; these are, however, a conversation starter, anyway.
Now--what should be done?
The five reasons I've listed are varied, and range from serious trust or fellowship issues down to matters of convenience in giving. I would tell pastors to set aside a few minutes, perhaps just after the homily or just before Mass actually begins, on a Sunday to pass out a survey to parishioners (in this way, the ones who actually come to Mass, not merely all registered parishioners, will be most represented). The survey questions might be something like this:
- Do you give to the parish? Weekly, monthly, occasionally, or other?
- Do you give the same amount each time, or varying amounts? (NB: don't ask how much.)
- Do you use the parish envelopes: always/sometimes/never?
- If you do not give to the parish, is the reason financial or other?
- If other, please explain: (offer space, and assure respondents that all surveys are anonymous and confidential).
What do you think? If you don't give to your parish, why not? What would help you to start giving, or to give more than you presently do?