Friday, June 28, 2013


U.S. Catholic Church a $170 billion business

Among Pope Francis' challenges will be oversight of the sprawling, lucrative -- but embattled --American organization.

It's a new era for the Roman Catholic Church as it welcomes its first non-European pope of the modern age. 

Many Catholics are watching closely to see which direction Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, will take their church. Along with becoming the spiritual leader of the estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, he's also assuming the leadership of one of the globe's largest businesses.

The church does not release financial data, but a lengthy report by The Economist last year said annual spending by the Vatican and church-owned entities in the U.S. alone was about $170 billion in 2010. While there are no hard data about the U.S. Catholic Church's annual revenue, Slate puts those spending numbers into some perspective -- noting that in fiscal 2012 Apple (AAPL) had $157 billion in revenue and that only 16 companies have more than $170 billion in revenue.  

The Economist estimates that 57% of the church's U.S. spending went to Catholic health care networks, with an additional 28% to colleges, 6% to day-to-day operations at local parishes and dioceses, and 2.7% to national charities. 

The church is also the largest charitable organization in the U.S. Its main group, Catholic Charities USA, along with its subsidiaries, reportedly has a paid staff of more than 65,000 and serves more than 10 million people. The Economist says it distributed nearly $5 billion in aid to the poor in 2010, with nearly two-thirds of those funds coming from state, local and federal government agencies.

However, the church has also suffered very high-profile financial losses due to some horrific scandals.

"The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years," The Economist notes, "$1.3 billion of that in California." And while that might seem a small sum for an organization that can dole out $170 billion, most of those settlements were made by local religious orders and dioceses, which have had to scramble  to find those funds.

Overall, according to The Economist, Catholic institutions in the U.S. employ over 1 million people -- more than many corporations but still less than half the number reportedly employed  by Wal-Mart (WMT).

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