This post is part of a series that commemorates the Pope’s visit in the Philippines on January 15-19 2015.
How much are the assets of the Catholic Church worth? The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., University of Santo Tomas in Manila, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, are just a few of the prime real estate assets of the Catholic Church. The Church also has a vast collection of expensive artworks. The Catholic Church is also the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world.
It is safe to say that the Catholic Church is one of the most asset-rich entities in the world. So how much is the Catholic Church worth? At present, no one knows. Even the Church leaders probably have no idea. Attempts have been made to value portions of the Catholic Church. The Economist in 2012 tried to determine the operating budget of the Catholic Church in the United States, but the magazine even described its estimation as a “back of the envelope” calculation at best. The estimate is an annual operating budget of $170 Billion just for the United States alone. If that value already seems overwhelming, please be reminded that in the US, Catholics are a minority.
What makes valuation of the Catholic Church’s assets difficult?
- Though the Catholic hierarchy and organizational structure are clearly defined, the assets of the Catholic Church are not pooled. Each diocese or organization is autonomous with regards to their assets. This autonomy is probably a blessing (pun intended), since creditors of one diocese will not have claims on the assets of others. It is even possible for individual parishes to claim autonomy over their assets (http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/when-parishes-merge-or-close)
- Most Catholic entities are not required to declare financial information; therefore, there is no need to put a value on their assets.
- Catholic entities are tax-exempt, so their income and expenses are not reported
- Appraising all the real estate assets of the Catholic Church around the world is a daunting task. It is also a fruitless exercise, since these assets will rarely be put up for sale.
This famous cathedral is not owned by the Catholic Church. It is actually owned by the French state. What the Catholic Church owns and what it doesn’t adds to the challenge in assessing the Church’s wealth.
The next question is — and we haven’t even answered the first one — Who owns all the Catholic Church’s assets?
If you ask the Pope, any bishop or priest, or any of the Catholic faithful (I am a Catholic myself btw), the answer will be…
God Owns everything.