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Spotlight Report

  Derrick Z. Jackson  

Archdiocese adds up as big business


In his ongoing denials, Cardinal Bernard Law said you cannot compare his role at the head of the archdiocese of boston to running a big business.

Law said, "It's important to remember that a bishop is not a corporate executive, is not a politician. . . . The role of a bishop in relationship to the church he serves is something different. It's the role of a pastor, the role of a teacher, the role of a father."

It is sickening to see someone claim the role of father after abandoning so many boys to the abuse of John Geoghan. Equally desperate is Law's attempt to go to places where he will hear only what he wants to hear. His three major public outings since the Globe broke the abuse scandal were with fellow priests in the Boston archdiocese, fellow cardinals in Rome, and his most loyal local church. The roar of 48 percent of Catholics in a Globe poll who want him to resign seems yet not to matter.

How long that will go on is up for lay Catholics to decide. What cannot pass by unchallenged, however, is Law's convenient delusion that the Catholic Church cannot be seen as a corporation. The Catholic Church, by many definitions, is one of the biggest businesses going, not to mention one of the most political.

Nationally, the Catholic Church takes in $8.2 billion a year in donations at the parish level, according to Joseph Harris, a researcher who is finishing the largest study to date on Catholic giving for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church does tremendous amounts of good work with much of this money in the areas of housing, education, and human rights.

But it cannot be ignored that the $8.2 billion in yearly revenues would place the Catholic church 234th on the Fortune 500 of US corporations.

That would place the church ahead of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Pepsi bottling, John Hancock Financial Sercies, General Mills, Kellogg, America Online, Union Carbide, Campbell's Soup, and Quaker Oats. The church collects more than twice as much from its pews than the revenues of The New York Times Co.

There are, of course, other major Catholic-run institutions, such as universities and hospitals. Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgetown, for example, have respective endowments of $3 billion, $1.045 billion, and $745 million.

No one has ever put together a reliable figure on what the Catholic Church and its institutions are worth nationally or globally. But in an article in the National Catholic Reporter three years ago, reformers who were concerned about the financial practices of the church in Europe thought the annual income of the church there was "tens of billions" of dollars.

The Archdiocese of Boston is the nation's fourth largest archdiocese in the United States, with 2 million members. It is in the middle of a $300 million capital campaign. That may not qualify it for the Fortune 500, but it is what Martha Stewart's company is worth. It is more than the annual revenues of Boston's Ira Automotive Group.

So the Catholic Church is not big business? The reason Law is running from the comparison is more than the obvious if-this-abuse-happened-in-a-corporation-he'd-be-outta-here.

This tragedy, with Law turning in the names of more priests to the police seemingly on a daily basis, only a few weeks after he claimed not to know of any more priests who were serving in the archdiocese who were accused of child sexual abuse, is becoming the equivalent of an airline CEO who ignored the maintainance of six loaded 747s that dropped out of the sky. CEOs usually hang on after one, even two planes crash. But four, five, or six? Do you want to place odds on that CEO's longevity?

While Harris said there is no historical evidence that child abuse scandals in local parishes have affected revenues at the diocesan level, Law may be flirting with the odds in Massachusetts. According to a Globe poll, nearly 20 percent of Catholics say they have been giving less money to the church since the scandals broke. For an archdiocese that just slashed its budget, that is not good news. It is in fact sad news, given the good works the church does do. How much longer Law will be allowed to go on as CEO will depend on how much Catholics decide that Law's denials hurt the work of the church.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 2/13/2002.
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