How rich is the Catholic Church in Canada?
“The Globe’s initial analysis focused on summarized Canada-wide revenue, property and net assets. But as the analysis became more detailed, it became clear we needed the help of experts in charity finance. We turned to Charity Intelligence Canada.”
Globe & Mail, Investigation into the Canadian Catholic Church
Working with the Globe and Mail on this story was intriguing. It seems obvious that the Catholic Church is very wealthy, despite its claims of poverty and pending bankruptcy.
Quick facts: A snapshot of the Church’s reported wealth in Canada in 2019.
This makes the Catholic Church Canada’s largest charity by far, as shown in the table below.
The Church’s claims of poverty are unfounded
With the public eye on Indigenous issues, schools, and child sexual abuse, the Catholic Church has faced reparations proceedings around the world. But in Canada, the US, Australia and Ireland, church lawyers have argued that the Catholic Church doesn’t have the money to pay its high settlements.
In 2016, Pierre Baribeau, the lawyer for the Canadian Catholic Church's Corporation of Catholic Entities, suggested that fundraising to pay the $25 million reparation for residential school survivors would not happen as many church organizations were already near bankruptcy.
This claim is hard to square with the financial figures the Church reports.
In Australia, after a similar claim of poverty, the Sydney Morning Herald said the Catholic Church misled and “grossly undervalued” its worth in the Royal Commission investigation.
“The church is notoriously secret about, and protective of, its wealth. Church leaders have repeatedly publicly underestimated church wealth and resisted greater financial transparency.”
Sydney Morning Herald, February 2018
This secrecy makes it even more important to understand the real resources of the Catholic Church.
So, let’s dig in.
As of the end of 2019, The Catholic Church had $490 million in cash, $1,212 million in investments (stocks and bonds), and reports properties worth $3,297 million.
It also had $124 million in donations that it had deferred, meaning they were received but neither spent nor reported as income, and will be reported as income in a future year. It had $961 million in other debts.
In total, its net assets were $4.1 billion.
This reported figure is conservative for three reasons:
1. Multi-million-dollar errors in what the Church reports to Ottawa:
The only information we have is what the various parishes and dioceses choose to report to the CRA Charities Directorate. In the few cases where we had audited financial statements, there are wide gaps between the figures reported to Ottawa and those in the financial statements.
Notably, the $4.1 billion figure for net assets includes just $2 - a toonie! - for the property value of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, it would report $940 million in property value. (See Archdiocese of Toronto’s 2020 income statement, Financial Note 2.) (How can a charity or indeed its directors and its auditors, pick and choose its own accounting rules is a fair question.)
2. Narrow scope:
Our analysis only covers 3,446 Catholic churches. It excludes monasteries, nunneries, schools, hospitals and other Catholic charities. These may also have large land holdings and investment portfolios.
3. Lower historical book values:
The property values, where reported, are likely the amount paid for properties when originally bought. This could have been hundreds of years ago. Historical values are significantly less than current market values.
For context, using market values of properties, the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2018 investigation estimated the Australian Catholic Church is worth a conservative C$26.5 billion. Australia has 5.3 million Catholics, making about C$4,800 in church wealth per Australian Catholic. With 12.8 million Canadian Catholics, if the wealth per Catholic is the same, the Canadian Church would have an estimated wealth of $62 billion.
All of this means that the $4.1 billion dollar estimate is very conservative.
No need to sell the artwork
Lorraine Whitman, President of Native Women’s Association of Canada, and a Catholic, has gone on pilgrimages to the Vatican. She comments, “One painting, if that were sold, do you know how far those dollars would go in the healing of our communities?”
Our financial analysis shows there is absolutely no need for such extreme actions like selling priceless art. No one is asking the Catholic Church to sell its Michelangelo's, Raphael's or chip away at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In 2019, after all its charity programs and expenses, the Canadian Catholic Church reported an annual profit of $110 million.
The Globe and Mail’s investigation could suggest that the Canadian Catholic churches' wealth is on par with Rome’s. The CIA reports the Vatican’s wealth is only US$4 billion (C$4.8 billion). The Holy See’s total revenues in 2013 were a mere US$315 million ($C415 million). In comparison, in 2019, the Canadian Catholic Church’s total revenues are C$1,519 million, more than three times what’s raised in Rome.
Learn more about other Canadian religious charities from Ci’s profiles:
Archdiocese of Toronto
Watch Tower – the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Canada
Latest Globe and Mail articles:
"Catholic Church charity set up to pay residential school survivors spent $6.46 million on expenses", August 25, 2021
Canadians need access to charities’ financial reports
“Many researchers have attempted to estimate the wealth of the Church… but the efforts have been stymied by a lack of reliable financial data.”
Sydney Morning Herald 2018 investigation
Canadian charities’ financial statements are a challenge to get in many cases. These financial statements, with notes and detailed disclosure, are not posted on the Charities Directorate’s website. These public records are posted in the US, UK and Australia. For example, trying to get the figures on Vancouver’s Catholic Archdiocese. The Globe submitted a request for information and received this from Vancouver Archdiocese’s file. It only submitted two pages! (In contrast, Archdiocese of Toronto’s financial statements are 21 pages long).
“The charitable sector is supported by all Canadian taxpayers. For this reason, the CRA is committed to enhancing the transparency and accountability of charities by providing relevant information about charities to the public at large.”
Sylvie Branch, CRA spokesperson, e-mailed statement to the Globe
We do, however, have access to T3010 tax returns of religious charities. This is much better than the public information in the US and Australia. In the US and Australia, religious charities are totally exempt from filing financial information and have no regulatory oversight.
Canada is good – it needs to be even better (see Charity Intelligence’s submission: suggestion to improve access to information on Canadian charities.) We need to follow the example of the UK Charities Commission on the transparency of religious charities.
We urge Canada’s charity regulator to require all large charities with over a million in annual donations, or assets over a million, to submit audited financial statements.
Sean Fine and Gloria Galloway, “Federal government scrapped appeal of residential-school settlement ruling”, Globe and Mail, April 20, 2016.
The Canadian government dropped its appeal with the Liberal government within a week of the Trudeau government taking office on November 4, 2015.
Royce Millar, Ben Schneiders, Chris Vedelago Catholic Church’s massive wealth revealed, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 12, 2018
Tim Parker, The Secret Finances of the Vatican Economy, July 27, 2021
CIA The World Fact Book, Holy See Vatican City, accessed August 2021
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