“Ask a Priest: What If Some People Think the Church Has Lots of Money?”

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Q: I work in the construction industry and have heard this phrase a few times concerning construction projects that are owned or financially backed by the Catholic Church. Often, non-Catholics involved in the project, when discussing payment, will state: “Oh, we’ll get paid. They’re Catholics. They have all kinds of money!” I want to be able to defend the Catholic Church and provide a good response to others when I hear this. What do you think? – L.H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m not sure whether there is a simple answer that would change their attitudes.

When people say that “The Catholic Church has a lot of money” they are often thinking that there is one centralized economy. The Church, in fact, doesn’t have one centralized bank account. Each entity — parish, school, diocese, monastery, etc. — has to pretty much fend for itself.

Some dioceses and parishes are wealthier than others. Many parishes live week by week, depending heavily on the collection basket. Communities of religious orders run the gamut from poor, simple ones in rural or inner-city areas to those attached to amply endowed institutions such as universities.

The Church does have a lot of property, but it uses that property in its work of ministry, education, health care, and aid to the poor.

In general the Church often struggles like anyone else to meet its expenses. Over the past 20 years especially there has been a lot of downsizing as parishes and schools were closed, chancery staffs reduced, and properties sold off. Whether your companions would be persuaded by any of this is another issue.

Perhaps the better approach is to look for opportunities to share your faith or to bring up moral issues in conversations.

Be prepared for skepticism, though. If people are critical of the Church, hear them out. And don’t be afraid to affirm them when they say something accurate. The Church has a human dimension which is all too fallible. There is no denying that.

Still, if we are willing to admit the Church’s mistakes, people might be open to us when we speak about its good points, such as its works of charity to the poor.

With this and your own example charity you might start a dialogue and open up the hearts of your companions.

Try to see your work as a place that you can evangelize. It’s a venue where you can share your faith and engage in fruitful discussions.

What might help is to pray for your co-workers each day. And keep up those acts of charity, especially through a habit of speaking well of others. All this will give the Holy Spirit something to work with.

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