Posted May 28, 2003
Barna Research Study on Catholics Who Tithe
Calls for Qualifications
According to the Barna Research Group, the number of Americans who give a full tenth of their income to the church dropped significantly last year.
The proportion of Americans who tithed dropped by 62 percent in the past year, from 8 percent in 2001 to just 3 percent of adults during 2002.
Of Catholic respondents, none reported giving 10 percent of last year's income to his or her church.
An expert on Catholic giving said that was not surprising because full tithing is not part of the U.S. Catholic culture. Charles Zech, a Villanova University economics professor and expert in Catholic giving issues, said, "By the pure standard of 10 percent, it doesn't surprise me that few or no Catholics tithe, because that's not what they've been taught as tithing. Most Catholic pastors define tithing differently," he said. "A lot of pastors preach a percent of income and call it tithing. They don't say, 'Give us 10 percent.' They say, 'Give us a specific percent of your income,' and they associate a percent of income with the idea of tithing."
Barna said the Catholic clergy scandals "reduced some people's confidence in church leaders and, consequently, reduced their giving as well."
Zech said his first reaction to the Barna findings "is to attribute it to the economy." When someone's income is rising, it is easier to give more to charity, but if someone faces an income drop or economic uncertainty, the need to meet fixed expenses first is likely to lead to a cutback in charitable giving.
His sense from the Barna survey and from anecdotal evidence is that the giving of Catholics to their own parishes has remained steady, but "the bigger impact is on diocesan giving and, of course, on second collections," which go to diocesan, national or international church programs.
"What I'm hearing anecdotally" about Catholic giving in most places, Zech contends, "is that the number of folks who contribute is down, but the dollar amount is not down, which says that some folks are giving more."