Should Catholics Tithe, Even if Some Money is Misused?

A reader e-mailed me and asked, “What would you say to a Catholic who struggles with giving money to the Church for fear of where it will go and how it will be spent?”  This is a question that a lot of Catholics find themselves asking.  There are plenty of stories about Church money having been used on things that seem stupid, or even sinful.  I’m sure everyone reading this can point to pet issues that get their blood up: if there’s one thing that seems to unite us as American Catholics, it’s a collective disdain for the idea of wasted tithe money.

So it really is a very good question. In one sense, it’s appropriate to be wise about where we’re donating, and what we’re supporting.  But when we tithe, we’re turning money over to God, in recognition that but for Him, we wouldn’t have that (or any) blessing.  In other words, we’re giving to God what is God’s, as Jesus instructs us to do in Mark 12:17.  Later in Mark 12, I think we get the closest thing Jesus gives to an answer to this question.  From Mark 12:38-44,

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” 
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
A priest pointed this out to me once, and it blew me away.  Immediately after Christ condemns the religious leaders for exploiting widows, He then praises a widow for donating to the Temple treasury anyways.  He didn’t start a “Withhold your tithe” movement.  He praised the widow for giving all that she had to live on.  
In other words, if a Catholic Church bishop or priest abuses tithe money, in whatever way, that sin is on their head, not ours. If we continue to tithe, we’re doing something God praises, not condemns. So that’s my model: give to the Church, regardless of how Her members are going to spend it. 

The other concern I have is this.  I think we should be extremely conscious that we don’t politicize the tithe, by releasing the money we owe to God only if our demands are met.  If you give, but with a bunch of strings attached, there’s a sense in which you’re not really giving. You’re trying to use the tithe money as if it’s yours. And the point is: it isn’t. It’s God’s.  Everything you own is His.  That’s the broader issue here.  We naturally want to control everything: it’s our fallen nature.  We’re convinced that if only we were in charge, things wouldn’t go badly.  That’s prideful nonsense.  The widow had the right idea.  She didn’t try to control everything: she just offered up to God everything she had, and He blessed her for it. So on a level deeper than dollars and cents, this is a struggle between pride and humility.

Now, having said all of that, the Church offers opportunities to donate to specific causes.  People are often encouraged to give based on the results that specific programs accomplish: everything from Peter’s Pence to diocesan appeals to parish fundraisers.  So I don’t think it’s inappropriate to donate wisely: to tithe in a way that you feel best helps the Body of Christ.  With the right spiritual disposition, this seems like it can even be a participation in the good of the Church: you’re investing (financially and spiritually) in a specific ministry out of love.

These are questions that may have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  But one thing I know is this: God never condemns anyone in Scripture for tithing, and Mark 12 makes it pretty clear that this is the case even if you know that some of the money may be wasted.

8 Comments

  1. Amen and AMEN!

    However, in many instances, the people are just following our lead! We actively seek patrons for everything, from the pew cards to the new Roman Missal books to website domain addresses.

    No one does “anonymous” giving, and we feed into it by greater and greater acknowledgements of patrons and benefactors. I fear we have brought this this “consumer” approach on ourselves, and we continue to actively encourage it.

    As one who believes strongly in stewardship, this saddens me greatly. But in many ways, it is like the third rail of finances in the Church. We rue the problem, but often feel powerless to do anything about it.

  2. “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”

    I don’t mean to sound anti-Catholic, me being Catholic and all, but this paragraph seems to be a perfect description of every bishop in the Catholic church.

    They are teachers of the law. They wear “flowing robes”, or lavish clothing in general. They are always greeted with much reverence in public places by the faithful and even most unfaithful. They have seats of honour in churches and practically any public event. I wonder what Christ would say about all this “pomp”?

  3. Bishops are the generals, and priests the squad leaders in this spiritual warfare.

    The uniform, officer or enlisted, must be prestine when the dignity of their rank requires it.

    Now man the rosaries! I sense some weakness in our flank.

  4. Georg,

    I think, studying the Gospel accounts of the attitudes and actions of those Our Lord was speaking of, it is clear that these people were abusive of their power, dead on the inside (white-washed tombs) and so on. Our Lord at times used hyperbole and other devices to get his message across. Was everyscribe and Pharisee like that? Nah.

    I think it’s the same with our bishops. They are the successors of the Apostles, who act in persona Christi. They have consecrated hands which daily touch Our Lord. They deserve our respect. But some abuse their power and would receive the same condemnation.

    (As an aside, some of these flowing robes–do you mean vestments? These are Biblical dating back to the Hebrew priests, dressed as how God requires. Other than that, I sadly don’t see many bishops or priests in robes/cassocks as much as the clerical business suit).

  5. @Georg Laing

    I just want you to be careful with the interpretation of your quote. Notice how relevant the term “like” is. He’s talking about those that internally like the praise, they enjoy the attention, they don’t have their heart set on serving God on others but on themselves. Now, this is not to say that there may not be some modern day members of our Church that also have the same misguided purposes, but it’s not fair to put them all under the same tent, just as I don’t think – and this is just my own personal analysis, so feel free to disagree – that our Lord was thinking about Nicodemus when he said that.

  6. Deacon Sean, I have a comment which should help you feel a little better. I used to attend a church in Albuquerque, NM … the Organ went out, so the church needed to rent a piano until it could be fixed. After the priest got fed up with having to answer why we had a piano, he mentioned it from the pulpit. The following Monday … a baby grand piano was delivered to the church … it was given by an anonymous individual(s).

    Another one that I am aware of, is people who will find someone (family or otherwise) and go buy them presents, wrap them … drop them on their doorstep … ring the doorbell and run.

    It may not happen often … but it does happen.

  7. Two things. First, Jesus’ famous proclamation to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar” introduces a similar conundrum: do I give to the government even if I don’t agree with what they do with my tax money?

    In the Roman world “rendering to Caesar” would mean funding torture, war, corruption, and, ironically, crucifixion. In short, the tax funded a culture of death.

    Today, a tithing Catholic worries that the parish *might* do something objectionable with their money. However a tax-paying American Catholic can be assured the government *will* do something against Catholic sensibilities. Yet Jesus still commission us to give.

    If we’re to give taxes to the government, even if the money will be used objectionably, how much more then are we obligated to give to the parish?

    Second, I think there’s a big difference between tithing into a large fund that *may* go toward something objectionable versus directy giving to a group you know is objectionable.

    I don’t know the whole scoop on the CCHD business, but whatever you believe about them, tithing to the parish is a whole different issue than putting money in a special collection for CCHD.

    I think most of the people who are boycotting some issue by not giving typically boycott these special collections, not your normal parish or diocesan collection.

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