Catholic Church wealth mostly inaccessible: longtime observer

Residential-school reparations best made via fundraising efforts with bishops' leadership, reporter says


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The Catholic Church in Canada may be worth billions of dollars, but there’s no single bank account from which money can be drawn to help pay for the healing of Indigenous people.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (406 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Catholic Church in Canada may be worth billions of dollars, but there’s no single bank account from which money can be drawn to help pay for the healing of Indigenous people.

That’s the view of Michael Swan, a reporter at the Catholic Register, Canada’s national Catholic newspaper.

Swan, a longtime observer of the Canadian Catholic scene, was reacting to a story in the Globe and Mail detailing the financial state of the Church in Canada.

In the article, the newspaper declared the Church has “ample means to help in reparations for Indigenous communities and reconciliation efforts to address the legacy of residential schools.”

Its calculations found the 2019 combined assets of 3,446 Catholic organizations in the country, mostly dioceses and parishes — cash, investments and property — were worth about $4.1 billion.

That same year a total of $886 million was donated to Catholic organizations across the country.

Swan doesn’t dispute the findings. But he said it’s disingenuous to say because the church is worth that much it can find millions of dollars to give away.

The “vast majority” of those assets are tied up in property, he said, in churches, cathedrals and other buildings.

“The Church could sell churches and easily come up with a few hundred million dollars, but those are things people use every day,” he said of how difficult that would be to do.

“They’re just not pretty architecture. They represent so much more, something beyond ourselves.”

That said, he thinks fulfilling the obligation of the failed $25-million “best efforts” healing fund is a good one, and that Catholics in Canada are capable of coming up with money.

“We have the fundraising capacity for that,” he said, adding the original campaign, which raised only $3.7 million, failed because it was poorly planned.

“They treated it like a capital campaign,” he said, going after a few large donors instead of launching a grassroots fundraising exercise.

Swan takes heart from the five fundraising campaigns that have sprung up across Canada in response to the news about unmarked graves of children at residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

“Concerned Catholics are taking it on themselves to do something,” he said. “They are responding in all kinds of ways.”

This includes an effort launched by a grassroots group called Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation, and appeals from the bishops of Saskatchewan, the Diocese of Calgary and the Archdiocese of Toronto. Another appeal is set to launch in B.C. in September.

But he thinks strong leadership is needed from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national assembly of the bishops of Canada.

“The bishops have to be sick to death of hearing the criticism of the Church every day,” he said of the need for them to take decisive action.

He hopes when the bishops gather in September for their annual meeting they will come up with a comprehensive plan to raise the needed funds.

“They have to come up with a solution,” he said, adding that includes “a full up-front papal apology.”

While raising the money is important, Swan said, reconciliation is about more than that. “We need a long-term commitment to reconciliation, not just raising some money and considering it done.”

In a statement to the Free Press in response to the Globe story, the CCCB said it wanted to emphasize the Catholic Church in Canada is made up of more than 3,000 organizations, and that “maintaining infrastructure, programming, and charitable services that benefit the communities we serve continues to be an important priority.”

It went on to say that “reconciliation is a long and ongoing journey that inspires our work every day,” and that it believes the Catholic entities that were party to the Indigenous Residential School Agreement “honoured all their settlement obligations.”

Bishops are having constructive conversations with Indigenous leaders and this “meaningful dialogue” has resulted in “significant progress on the path to reconciliation,” including confirmation of a meeting between Pope Francis and a delegation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit survivors, knowledge keepers and youth this December.

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