Catholics put less in collection plate Parishes explore ways to get members into the routine of giving


St. Margaret Church in Bel Air has 4,300 families on the parish rolls, but only 1,750 who put an envelope in the collection plate every week.

Therein lies a puzzle for priests and scholars alike: Why do Catholics give less to their church than members of other U.S. religious denominations?

"Catholic giving is lower and quite a bit lower," said Dean R. Hoge, a Catholic University sociologist. "The Jewish community has the highest giving of all.

"The Lutherans, the Protestant denomination whose income levels most resemble those of Catholics, give roughly twice as much."

Fund-raisers account for surprisingly little income, even in Catholic parishes with a tradition of bingo, Dr. Hoge said.

The average Catholic household gives the church about 1.4 percent of its income, said Mary Beth Celio, director of research for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

"Are Catholics naturally stingy or is something else going on?" Mrs. Celio asked.

"No one has really been able to get to the heart of it."

Some Catholic parishes are stressing fund-raising. St. Margaret's has for the first time adopted a five-year development plan.

Among the goals: increase weekly envelope users to 2,500, and boost the parish budget from $1.1 million last year to $1.8 million.

St. Margaret's is embarking on a building campaign to ease overcrowding. And it wants to spend more on religious education and helping the poor.

At St. Francis de Sales Church in Abingdon, the Rev. Thomas L. Phillips said he is trying to spread the concept of stewardship.

"As followers of Jesus, we have to understand our responsibility to be stewards of what God has given us," he said.

"We come into this world with fundamentally nothing. We're all gifted by God, and through stewardship we're called to share a part of that with God and with the church."

Mrs. Celio offered several probable explanations for why Catholics give less:

* There is no tradition of tithing -- giving a 10th of one's income to the church -- as in some Protestant denominations.

"Catholics are simply not asked to give. Very few parishes have pledge programs. It's like what you have in your pocket today and whatever sifts through the lint ends up in the box," she said.

* Catholics are younger than Protestants on average. Older, married couples with children and regular churchgoers generally give more.

"Those who go, give; those who go most often, give most generously," she said.

* Catholic parishes are much bigger than Protestant churches, and members may feel less responsibility to support the church.

Here's what Mrs. Celio said Catholic parishes can do to increase giving:

Have a lay couple give a homily about how they give and why. Have the pastor explain the biblical reasons behind stewardship. Spread the message in mailings. Set up a system of pledges. Involve the laity in financial decisions. Be accountable.

And, finally, remember this rule of thumb: Twenty percent of the people give 80 percent of the money.

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