The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is searching for ways to encourage its members to give more of their time and money to the church.
In undertaking the campaign, the church is bucking a long-term trend toward less giving. Most Protestant churches face severe financial problems of their own. But while the Protestants' problems are linked to declining and aging membership, the Catholic Church's financial problems have grown, despite its rising membership.
On a per capita basis, Protestants and Jews give more of their income to their churches than Catholics do, even though Catholics have one of the highest income levels of any major faith group. A study by Independent Sector, a group of foundations, corporate donors and charities, concluded that Catholics give 1 percent of their income to charity (mostly to churches), compared with 1.3 percent for United Methodists, 1.4 percent for Jews, 1.6 percent for Lutherans and Baptists, 2.2 percent for Presbyterians and 2.5 percent for other Protestants.
There is no single set of figures showing the financial condition of the Catholic Church because dioceses generate their own revenue. But the consequences of the giving habits of Catholics are felt everywhere. In recent years the Vatican has incurred record deficits, some U.S. dioceses have had to curtail hiring and bishops have consolidated churches and schools.
There are several theories proposed for the level of Catholic giving. The Rev. Andrew Greeley, a sociologist, estimates that if Catholics gave the same percentage of their income to their church that Protestants do, the Catholic Church would have $6 billion a year more.
Greeley says many Catholics have reduced their contributions because they are angry with the church over issues such as birth control and divorce.
In a recent series in the Chicago Sun-Times, Greeley surveyed 507 Catholics in the Chicago archdiocese. He found that 56 percent were frequently angry at their church. Those who feel the clergy doesn't listen to them and who believe there is corruption in the church gave an average of $100 less than those who do not feel that way, he said.
But Francis Doyle, an associate general secretary for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said, "A greater problem is people who are happy with the church -- they may disagree here or there, but they're generally happy -- who only give a dollar."
Matthew Paratore, executive director of the Washington-based National Catholic Stewardship Council, said priests and church leaders must raise the issue of giving. "We were never trained to give more than our parents. We need to be reminded that the dollar our grandparents put in the collection plate in 1926 has a different value today."
Paratore said that when people are encouraged to become more involved in church life, they will give more financially because they feel a sense of "ownership."
Several parishes have adopted an approach similar to tithing in Protestant churches.
The Rev. Joseph Champlin, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Camillus, N.Y., calls the concept "sacrificial giving" and has been pushing it for years. He says the basic principle is "giving back to the Lord part of what the Lord has given you. Most Catholics give what is left over out of habit."
Giving should be a "sacrifice" in two senses of the word, Champlin says: "It should be ritualized and it should have a little bite to it."
Champlin recommends giving 10 percent of income to charity, half to the parish and half to other charities. He said his use of the approach has led to increases in giving of 40 percent and more.