BOSTON -- Despite rising incomes, Roman Catholics are far less willing to dig into their pockets to support their churches than members of other religious denominations, according to a recent report.
The average Catholic family contributes $386 annually to its church, compared with $1,696 for families in the Assemblies of God, the denomination with the highest level of giving, according to studies by Catholic University in Washington.
Average annual family contributions for the other three denominations included in the report were $1,154 for Southern Baptists, $1,085 for Presbyterians and $746 for Evangelical Lutherans.
The studies surveyed 125 congregations or parishes from each of the five groups -- selected because they represent a cross section of religious life in the United States.
The Catholic University studies, which will soon be released as a book, parallel several opinion polls in recent years showing that Catholics have become less generous in their donations to churches.
The low level of Catholic giving, several Catholic scholars and officials said, is a byproduct of the alienation many Catholics feel from their local parishes. Many parishes, these observers said, do a poor job of involving lay members in church life and in decisions about how to spend money. Parishioners, consequently, do not feel very motivated to give.
"A typical parish is still pretty much dominated by the pastor, and people are still in a relatively passive role," said Francis Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, an umbrella organization of 38 foundations based in Washington.
Catholic churches need to make a stronger connection between money and spirituality, said Francis Schultz, a national consultant to parishes on finances and director of stewardship for the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida.
"We have not asked people to give in the right way," he said. "We need to make it part of our faith, our spirituality in action."
As a result of poor financial support, many of the nation's 188 dioceses from New York to Detroit to San Francisco are in dire economic health. Some have been forced to close parishes and schools.
Family income is not enough to explain the disparities in giving, according to Catholic University's research. Of the denominations surveyed, Catholics were second to Presbyterians in average family income. In contrast, the Assemblies of God, which recorded the highest level of giving, had the lowest average family income, $39,210.
"While many Catholics are generous in giving of themselves and their resources to the church, others do not respond to the needs in proportion to what they possess," said a pastoral letter on stewardship released by U.S. bishops in 1992.