Is cutting off the money the way to go?

The other day, I posted a question from a reader about a priest who had, for the second year, put out a “gay” flag at the parish for Hubris Week.  HERE

I suggest that, in a situation like this where satisfaction can be gained from neither the priest nor the bishop, your only recourse might to be to cut off all or some of their money.

Think about this.  Demographics are shifting in the Church.  Lots of the people who have money – people who do or have worked – are aging or are aged.  Their money is not going to be available to parishes and dioceses pretty soon and their kids aren’t going to Mass at all.  The “nones” are going to stop pretending to associate themselves with the family’s “legacy faith”.  They won’t be a source of money for the Church either.

So, the individual giver is going to be ever more important.   Even in politics today, small donors are making a huge difference.

So, cutting off money may be the way to go.

I would modify that to say that you should do research to find out solid and reliable Church entities to support.  Hey!  Remember the TMSM!

But seriously…

Did you see what is happening in the Christ the King Seminary?  Diocese of Buffalo (where a RICO suit has been filed)?

A letter was made public.  The “dean” of seminarians at Christ The King resigned his leadership position – said he is leaving the formation program – and issued a letter addressed to the Bishop of Buffalo, Richard J. Malone, and clergy and seminarians, made public by a local news station.  PDF HERE  Before becoming a diocesan seminarian for Buffalo, he had been a religious brother for 24 years.

It’s a real bombshell.  One line: “How do I commit my life to representing a diocese that is suspected of being so corrupt that it is being investigated by the federal government under the R.I.C.O Act?

Here is a short video clip I spotted on Twitter

Well that’s another take on “New Evangelization”!

I don’t know if we can in good conscience entirely cut off every entity of the Church.  We have an obligation to support the Church materially and support the works of religion.  But we don’t necessary have an obligation to support entity X or entity Y.  Z – YES! but not necessary X or Y, if you get my drift.

There are many great groups who are doing wonderful and important things in and for the Church which need support.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Rob83 says:

    I live in this diocese. Bombshell after bombshell the last year and a half, and this is not the first time the diocesan seminary has been in the crosshairs for bad behavior. This letter comes in the wake of all the lawsuits filed in the last week, and a different seminarian going public with the case referred to in this letter, which resulted in a suspension once the local media aired it.

    The frustrating thing is our bishop was auxiliary in Boston when the crisis hit there 17 years ago, and it doesn’t seem he has learned anything from the experience. Whether he sticks around until retirement age or resigns early (about a year and a half away from 75), the next bishop would be well advised to dismiss the entire seminary and chancery staff and rebuild from scratch.

    People are passing judgment with their dollars and their feet. The parish sent a letter months ago expressing concern over declining collections, and word had it the diocese was doing attendance counts in consideration of reducing the Sunday Mass schedule. CCD enrollment last year declined some 25% at the parish, and of the kids I did get, not one ever raised a hand when asked if they’d been to Mass on Sunday.

    Please pray for us, we can use a lot of prayers and fasting these days.

  2. AndyMo says:

    I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad way to go, but I can think of a major flaw in the “cutting off the money” strategy. Do you know who DOES have the money? The homosexual activists. They have tons of it, because they’re not raising any kids. If the higher-ups are only listening to those who line their pockets, they’ll be the ones with the loudest voices. Is that a good reason? Not really, but I just thought I’d put it out there.

  3. iPadre says:

    I don’t think cutting back on all giving is the answer. If people do this, their local parish will wither and die. There are two ways of doing this though. First, go to a parish that is faithful in doctrine, morality, and Liturgy. Second, don’t give to special collections. But, as I said, the good parishes will die if you don’t support them. All that will remain are the liberal parishes with big hitting donors who love abortion, contraception, and LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ…

  4. Anne C. says:

    I have heard that, if you belong to a good, faithful parish, as we do, it is possible to give money directly to the Pastor, bypassing the Archdiocese completely (which is what we’d like to do).

    Is this a possibility?

  5. Gil Garza says:

    As faithful Catholics, we have a Divine obligation to support the Church. We have so many faithful choices instead of giving our hard earned dollar to a corrupt bishop and his diocese. We should support Fr. Z and others like him who help instead of hurt. Decide to do it today!

  6. APX says:

    Another option (at least in Canada, I don’t know the donation laws in other countries), you can specify exactly what you want your money to be used for (ie: utilities, choir and music, etc)

  7. teomatteo says:

    Anne, I have heard the suggestion of giving your priest a prepaid visa or something along those lines. If you mail it or give it to him directly it probably won’t get counted as a parish contribution. That may not be workable. Just what I heard.

  8. Lurker 59 says:

    In a certain sense, withholding money is akin to chemo — you hope that it kills the cancer in the Church before it kills the Church.

    There are other ways of helping one’s parish, rather than by giving to the collection. Offer your time, directly purchase goods that the parish needs, buy Father his groceries for the week, or get together with other parishioners and directly pay the bills.

    @AndyMo — You are right, but I wouldn’t worry about it. t has never been the case that the combined purchasing power of the pew-sitters even remotely approached the individual purchasing power of those that hold the wealth. You cannot starve the wealthy and those that have the support of the wealthy by withholding the money of the poor. You starve them by reducing their influence, the amount of praise they get, and the amount that you rely upon them.

    Withholding money from the collection plate is mostly a kick in the pants to those lukewarm individuals that could say and do something but don’t, for various reasons. It is a lever to move them, not necessarily the ones at the top.

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    We can keep the beautiful churches, all the lovely grounds and beautiful artifacts of our faith, but we have to keep the same men in charge we have now, and we know we are suffering chaos and relentless apostasy.
    We return to the authentic Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in cafeterias and fields, but the men we have as our priests and bishops will be in love with Christ and the Catholic faith, and will burn with desire for souls, not for each other or for our little boys and our young men.
    By not using whatever means we have to effect real change, are we not already choosing the first?
    Money needs to be on the table. It’s about all we have that they want.

  10. Peter Stuart says:

    This struggling SSA’s dollars go with him to the SSPX, without which who knows where I’d be.

  11. RK3 says:

    Right on, Fr. Z. Parishes and dioceses should be looking to the future and planning towards maintaining parishes and dioceses when the money pits dry up. Don’t forget, too, that most “millenials” have been fooled into becoming slaves to school loan debt, and thus will have much less to give even if they continue practicing the Faith.

    Philosophically, this topic is yet another example of “the question of the one and the many”. Should money givers punish a whole diocese or parish (“the many”) because of the actions of one pastor/bishop (“the one”)? No.

    Parishioners should, instead of stopping giving, demand that money they give will be designated for specific use or something like that. For example, if a parishioner gives money to the bishop or parish, they should be able to designate exactly what it is used for – power bill, general Church maintenance, etc.

    If the diocese “newspaper” is merely a weekly Democrat party propaganda fish wrap, parishioners should be able to decide that they don’t want to give towards the $1 million/year free Democrat-party propaganda.

    Of course, designating where money goes requires trust that the bishop/pastor/secretary/whoever will be honest about the use of the money.

    On a similar note, though, other online “news” publications have suggested that recent $million law suits are a “day of reckoning” for the Church. That is not only absurd, but it seems to be an indicator that certain persons have bad intentions towards the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Nobody that loves God would support other people essentially stealing God’s property/money – especially due to the fact that the bad/evil deeds were only committed by a certain percentage rather than the everyday Church-goer.

    Same with the above-posted letter; the guy seems to have the ability to be a leader and make changes for the better, yet he quit? Maybe there is more to the story. However, as it stands, it seems like he just quit because the diocese is a suspect.

    It is important to note that all persons should be given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty – even if they are from a diocese on The Left Coast!

  12. Charles E Flynn says:

    We must maintain the infrastructure of these parishes, in case they get recaptured by Catholics.

  13. FrankWalshingham says:

    I’m done giving even one thin dime to Allen Vigneron and the homopredator protector violet mafia running the Archdiocese of Detroit. Will put it all in the Grotto Christmas basket which is not taxed by the AOD. I’ll be damned if I give another dime to an archbishop who invites known predator John Clayton Nienstedt, the disgraced gay archbishop who left his Minneapolis archdiocese bankrupt in to Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary to concelebrate Mass with the young men in formation there. What kind of message does that send when an archbishop of queer perversions is banned from public ministry in his home archdiocese, but welcomed in with open arms elsewhere? Shame on you, Allen Vigneron! Especially for tolerating gay perversion while persecuting falsely accused orthodox priests like Father Perrone!

  14. Hidden One says:

    Did Christ get off the Cross and walk away because of the state of the Jewish people?

    That points to the major flaw I find with Mr. Parisi’s courageous letter.

  15. Toan says:

    Let’s say your perish is good, but your diocese is not good. I hear that the diocese requires perishes to tithe 10% or so on offertory collections generally. I have also heard, however, that some donations are exempt from this tithe. The maintenance fund at my parish for example, if donated to directly, is excluded. I have also seen Christmas and holy day offerings excluded from the tithe from my diocesan financial analysis days.

    Food for thought.

  16. andia says:

    I also live in this diocese-and yes we’ve had 18 months of bombshells HOWEVER it should come as no surprise that this person is resigning since in his first paragraph he not only admits, but excuses, his own plagiarism! Many of his complaints are not surprising as the summer assignments are internships and no one goes into one doing the same thing as their supervisors – most interns do scut work Much of being a pastor/ priest involves doing crap jobs— I’ve seen pastors clean up overflowing toilets, picking up garbage and weeding gardens along with countess meetings, hospital visits and paperwork not exactly glamorous Buffalo has it’s issues but this person is no victim

  17. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Your post is thoughtful, realistic advice.

  18. loyeyoung says:

    Regarding the tithe (10%, unless modified by the bishop), the Church has infallibly held (several times) that redirecting or withholding money on account of the sins of clergy is error and forbidden anyone, under pain of anathema, to preach, teach, or hold otherwise. E.g. Council of Constance, Session 15 (July 6, 1415), error 41. Given the repeated insistence on the tithe in ecumenical councils and the strong language they use, it is hard to argue that the tithe is merely prudential.

    See also my article and the comments thereto:

    NB — With a tip of the hat to Dr. Ed Peters, my article cited uses the word “heresy” in the sense of “belief or opinion contrary to doctrine,” not in the sense of a formal canonical crime.

  19. Pingback: Monday Morning Brain Jumpstart: some good reading | Fr. Z's Blog

  20. Mr. Graves says:

    WRT the question of withholding money completely, I believe Mr. Young is absolutely correct.

    But, as other have pointed out repeatedly, you don’t have to donate directly to your parish/diocese if there are liturgical abuses, LGBTQWERTY bishops/pastors, etc. There are at least two faithful orders offering the TLM whose seminaries could use a financial boost. There are online sites, funded only by reader donations, who strive to proclaim the fullness of the Faith in this present darkness. Etc., etc.

  21. bartlep says:

    There are so many good, orthodox religious orders to which to contribute, as well as pro-life organizations, Catholic organizations that rescue sex-trafficked girls — so many that do not squander money. In my parish (which is good but the bishop isn’t…) I earmark my money to go to the mortgage fund so that none goes to the diocese.

  22. loyeyoung says:

    @Mr. Graves
    >”you don’t have to donate directly to your parish/diocese if there are liturgical abuses”

    It turns out that yes, we do have to contribute the tithe to our parish. The tithe is a matter of worship, not fundraising. See

    St. Thomas Aquinas makes clear this point in his Summa discussion of the tithe.

    Further, the Third Lateran Council (See Pope Innocent III, Letter entitled Fitts exempio, to Archbishop of Terraco, dated Dec. 18, 1208, Denzinger ( at 427, “We believe that tithes and first fruits and oblations should be paid to the clergy according to the Lord’s command.”) and Session 15 of the Council of Constance (see Errors 38 and 41) both specifically required that the tithe be paid to the secular parish clergy.

    The Council of Trent proclaimed that redirecting tithes away from the parish is stealing:

    Those are not to be borne who, by various artifices, endeavour to withhold the tithes accruing to the churches ; nor those who rashly take possession of, and apply to their own use, the tithes which have to be paid by others; whereas the payment of tithes is due to God; and they who refuse to pay them, or hinder those who give them, usurp the property of another. Wherefore, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to whom it belongs to pay tithes, that they henceforth pay in full the tithes, to which they are bound in law, to the cathedral church, or to whatsoever other churches, or persons, they are lawfully due. And they who either withhold them, or hinder them (from being paid), shall be excommunicated; nor be absolved from this crime, until after full restitution has been made. It further exhorts all and each, that, of their Christian charity, and the duty which they owe to their own pastors, they grudge not, out of the good things that are given them by God, to assist bountifully those bishops and parish priests who preside over the poorer churches; to the praise of God, and to maintain the dignity of their own pastors who watch for them.
    Council of Trent, Session XXV, Decree on Reformation, Chapter XII (Dec. 4, 1613)

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Loye Young,

    First off, I read the short biography attached to your article and I must say that I, too, am a Linux fan and I support free and open source software.

    I had the chance to read over your article at the Catholic Stand on withholding tithing. At first I was terrified about the implications of the anathemas of the Councils, but it lead me to do some research on the issue and I suppose I might enter the discussion by clarifying a few aspects of the matter that I have found (I always stand ready to be corrected, however). While the Councils texts you cite are proper, their interpretation may be argued, or, rather clarified, a bit.

    To begin with, tithing, from a Catholic perspective, may be traced back to Genesis 14:21:

    “…and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him [Mel-chiz’edek] a tenth of everything.”

    It was developed, extensively, during the years of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as the Mosaic law developed. The concept of the tenth offering comes from the Hebrew, ma’aser, where aser is related to ten or a tenth, depending upon use.

    To simplify, there was the terumah (heave offering), which was the general or great offering to the priests (kohen, the temple priests – a subcategory of the general Levite priesthood – specifically, descendants of Arron), which did not have to be 1/10 of something (it could be as little as 1/50), but it was usually composed of grain, wine, and oil that the priest and his family ate in a state of ritual purity. The Levites (the non-temple priests of the tribe of Levi, responsible for singing, guarding, and carrying) however, afterwards, were to be given, specifically, 1/10 of the produce (grain, wine, and oil, although other produce might have been included – a debated point). This is called the ma’aser rishon – what we commonly call first-fruits (or first tenth). There was, also, the second tithe – ma’aser sheni, and even a third tithe – terumat hamaaser, which need not concern us.

    Now, ordinarily, the tithes were to be brought to Jerusalem, but if the journey were too far, Deuteronomy 14: 22-25 specifies:

    “22 Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that which is brought forth in the field year by year.
    23 And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which He shall choose to cause His name to dwell there [Jerusalem], the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herd and of thy flock; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.
    24 And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it, because the place is too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set His name there, when the LORD thy God shall bless thee;
    25 then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thy hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose.
    26 And thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household.”

    It is crucial to note that, originally, the ma’aser was only agricultural products. It was not money, except by forebearance.

    As the Hebrew theology developed, this ma’aser came to be seen as an obligation and a form of worship to God. The use of money as a tithe does occur in the Old Testament, but by-and-large, given that most of the people were farmers (grain or live-stock) and a large portion of business was probably done by barter, the most common sense of ma’aser concerned fruits of the earth.

    Even in the Gospels, the word tithe is only used once, in Matthew 23: 23 (Luke 11:42) and refers to spice offerings:

    “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

    Indeed, in the discussion of corban (Mark 7: 11-12), Jesus is not pleased that the Pharisees set aside money that would, otherwise, go to support their parents.

    In the rest of the New Testament, St. Paul does talk about supporting the Churches according to one’s means (2 Cor 8:12):

    12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.

    He does not talk, however, about tithing, per se.

    Tithing does not occur in the New Testament (except for the aforementioned passages in Matthew and Luke, which is more theologically-oriented). In fact, the use of tithing does not occur in the first two centuries of the Christian Church (things were purchased from a common purse) and was a suggestion in the third and fourth century (see, for instance, A History of Tithes, by Henry William Clarke, 1894, pg. 10 – he is anti-Catholic, so be warned):

    The suggestion of giving a tenth to the Church had various reactions among the Church Fathers. For instance, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr thought that giving a tenth was too little, as the earliest Christians sold everything and lived in common:

    “The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of Tithes; Christians who have liberty assign all their possessions to the Lord bestowing freely not the lesser portions of their property since they have the hope of greater things.” [Irenaeus]

    Clement of Alexandria pointed to a more theological aspect, beyond tithing:

    “The tithes of the fruits and of the flocks taught both piety towards the Deity and not to covetously grasp everything. Instead, one should share gifts of kindness with one’s neighbors. For it was from these, I reckon, and from the firstfruits that the priests were maintained.” [Clement]

    By the time of Augustine and Chrysostom, tithing was seen as a proper counsel:

    “Woe to him, it is said, who doeth not alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New…hey gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows, and strangers, whereas someone was saying to me in astonishment at another, ‘Why, such an one givest tithes.’ What a load of disgrace does this expression imply, since what was not a matter of wonder with the Jews has come to be so in the case of the Christians? If there was danger then in omitting tithes, think how great it must be now.” [St. John Chrysostom]

    For the first five centuries of the Church, priests were supported by the common charity. The first legislated text, however, was at the Synod of Marcon, in 585, which was a regional synod, as far as I can find, with no binding force (I stand to be corrected on this – I cannot find the Latin texts from 585, only 581-583). Canon V, which appeals to the Old Testament (the old law) reads:

    “5. The old law, to pay tithes to the Church, is widely neglected, and must therefore
    be enjoined afresh. The tithe is to be expended for the use of the poor (also of the clergy), and for the redemption of prisoners. Whoever obstinately refuses it is for ever excommunicated.”

    The Third Lateran Council in 1179 does discuss tithing with binding force, however, the word, “tithe,” was only coming into existence at this time, being of anglo-saxon origin. The word used in both Lateran III and Trent is decimas or decimus, which simply means, “tenth”. Given the largely agricultural nature of the middle Medieval Period, the decimus, almost certainly, did not refer simply to money.

    Third Lateran Council, Canon 9 (in part:)

    “Ecclesias sane et decimas de manu laicorum, sine consensu episcoporum…

    The Council of Trent, SESSIO XXV 3-4 dec. 1563 [Decretum de reformatione][Caput XII], says:

    “Non sunt ferendi qui variis artibus decimas ecclesiis obvenientes subtrahere moliuntur aut qui ab aliis solvendas temere occupant et in rem suam vertunt cum decimarum solutio debita sit Deo et qui eas dare noluerint aut dantes impediunt res alienas invadant. Praecipit igitur sancta Synodus omnibus cuiuscumque gradus et conditionis sint ad quos decimarum solutio spectat ut eas ad quas de iure tenentur in posterum cathedrali aut quibuscumque aliis ecclesiis vel personis quibus legitime debentur integre persolvant. Qui vero eas aut subtrahunt aut impediunt excommunicentur nec ab hoc crimine nisi plena restitutione secuta absolvantur. Hortatur dehinc omnes et singulos pro christiana charitate debito que erga pastores suos munere ut de bonis sibi a Deo collatis episcopis et parochis qui tenuioribus praesunt ecclesiis large subvenire ad Dei laudem atque ad pastorum suorum qui pro eis invigilant dignitatem tuendam non graventur.”

    “Those are not to be borne who, by various artifices, endeavour to withhold the tithes accruing to the churches ; nor those who rashly take possession of, and apply to their own use, the tithes which have to be paid by others; whereas the payment of tithes is due to God; and they who refuse to pay them, or hinder those who give them, usurp the property of another. Wherefore, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to whom it belongs to pay tithes, that they henceforth pay in full the tithes, to which they are bound in law, to the cathedral church, or to whatsoever other churches, or persons, they are lawfully due. And they who either withhold them, or hinder them (from being paid), shall be excommunicated ; nor be absolved from this crime, until after full restitution has been made. It further exhorts all and each, that, of their Christian charity, and the duty which they owe to their own pastors, they grudge not, out of the good things that are given them by God, to assist bountifully those bishops and parish priests who preside over the poorer churches; to the praise of God, and to maintain the dignity of their own pastors who watch for them.”

    So, to summarize, the giving of money as a tithe is not biblically mandated, nor exists as a mandate for the first five centuries of the Church. It was assumed that support would be given either from the fruits of the earth or, if possible or because of necessity, money. Likewise, one will search in vain for any mention of the ides that the tenth portion has to specifically be money in any Church document. That the idea of tithing came to be regarded as a monetary donation after the rise of general use currency in the Twelth-century, is not sufficient to establish the interpretation or tradition that tithing = giving money. Such an interpretation has no biblical basis nor basis in history to that point, since most of the common folk worked off the land and barter was the common coin.

    Sure, money is more convenient and easy to give, but it cannot have been a strict necessity, even within the interpretations of the Councils, who, while mentioning a tenth (decimas), never specify in what form that tenth should take. Indeed, in certain aboriginal missionary territories the idea of tithe = money would be ridiculous.

    It is true that a positive obligation to provide the decimas is enjoined on the faithful, but even Trent specifies that this is according to law and, therefore, subject to change by the Church. According to the current universal law, no specified amount of the tenth is specified. It may be subject to different regions, however, to provide more details, such as in Germany. As to the obligation of tithing as an act of worship, see, Robert Jared Staudt, RELIGION AS A VIRTUE: THOMAS AQUINAS ON WORSHIP THROUGH JUSTICE, LAW, AND CHARITY, unpub. dissertation, Ave Maria university, 2008.

    Even St. Thomas, however, says in ST II/II Q. 86 art. 3, on oblations:

    “On the contrary, It is written (Proverbs 3:9): “Honor the Lord with thy substance.” Now whatever a man possesses lawfully belongs to his substance. Therefore he may make oblations of whatever he possesses lawfully.”

    So, oblations do not have to be from money. If someone wants to, say, give $50 worth of food as the offering as his first fruits, he should, as I understand things, be able to do so. People are obliged to give to the Church, but the Church has never specified that that be in money. So, it seems lawful to withhold money, as long as one gives something of equivalent value for the support of the Church. It may be a hassle for the chancery to re-sell the items to get money, but that is, strictly speaking, not the laity’s problem.

    The Chicken

  24. RLseven says:

    I have not been able to donate money to my parish or diocese for some time, due to matters of conscience. However, I have found a number of Catholic organizations to support instead, such as Catholic Relief Services, a local Catholic retreat center, a Catholic Worker house, a local service organization with Catholic leadership that inspires their work, etc. Checks are automatically sent out each month, so I don’t even have to think about it, nor do I miss the money. When I learn of another Catholic ministry that I want to support, they get added. I tithe a bit more than 10% of my net income (I believe we are supposed to tithe our GROSS income, correct?), but try to offer the rest in time and talent.

    My wife and I have worked diligently with our children to teach them about giving FIRST to God, Church, those in need– whether from allowances, monetary gifts, paychecks –and then taking care of our own needs and wants. Each of them has been able to reflect on the personal and spiritual benefits they experience from this kind of giving as a way of life.

  25. loyeyoung says:

    @The Masked Chicken

    1. For a detailed analysis of the tithe in the Old Testament, see

    2. Whichever language you want to use, the rule is 10%.

    3. There is no requirement to offer money per se. If you are a farmer and want to offer 10% of your crop, so be it. If you are a manufacturer and want to offer 10% of the widgets you make, rock on.

    4. On the Catechism and Canon Law:

    Several commentators to my article have argued that the tithe is not binding because neither the Catechism nor the Code of Canon Law require the tithe. Others have argued that my use of the word “heresy” is either wrong or too strong.

    The Scope of the Catechism and the Code

    From the outset, neither the Catechism nor the Code of Canon Law attempt to state every Catholic doctrine or opposing heresy. Although both by nature are very comprehensive treatments for their respective purposes, neither lists every infallible pronouncement of the popes or the ecumenical councils.

    The Catechism is a tool to explain the Catholic faith in one volume and has great usefulness as an official and well-vetted summary of the teaching of the Magisterium. However, the Catechism does not itself establish or overrule any Catholic doctrine. It does not (and cannot) overrule an infallible statement of a pope or an ecumenical council.

    No infallible statement of a pope or ecumenical council can be abrogated by omission from a canon law, because such is the nature of infallibility. Certain laws were abrogated by the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law: the 1917 law which it replaced, directly contrary universal or particular laws, penal laws of the Apostolic See, and disciplinary laws the Code completely reordered. Canon 6, §1. When the laws are not abrogated, they should be read in accord with canonical tradition. Canon 6, §2. Custom is the best interpreter of laws (Canon 27), but no custom which is contrary to divine law can obtain the force of law (Canon 24 §1).


    The Catechism repeats Vatican II’s statement of Magisterial infallibly: “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine for belief as being divinely revealed, and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” ¶ 891 (Quoting Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) 25)

    The Code of Canon Law defines infallibility in canonical form:

    Canon. 749 §1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

    §2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

    Canon 749

    The Council of Constance declarations condeming the withholding of the tithe meet the definition of infallibility because they specify, on behalf of Jesus Christ, errors that shall not be held. In the later councils before Vatican II, the penalties of anathema or excommunication were often used formulatically in connection with dogmatic statements. Although the penal law of anathema has been removed from canon law and the penal law of excommunication has undergone extensive procedural reform, the doctrines declared are still in full force.

    “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.” Canon 751. In short, the obstinate rejection of infallible truth is heresy. Conversely, the obstinate holding to an infallibly condemned teaching is heresy.

    Neither the Catechism nor the Code Teach Against the Tithe.

    The Catechism affirms the obligation to give for the support of the Church in accord with ability (¶ 2043, citing Canon 222) and for the relief of the poor (¶¶ 2443-2449) but is silent respecting the tithe (except for a passing reference to the Old Testament tithe in ¶2449). Of course, the tithe is proportionate and has the salutatory effect of being affordable by virtually everyone. (Do you know anyone making 10% less than you do? Do they survive? What would you do if you got a 10% reduction in pay?)

    The Code of Canon Law requires the faithful to give for the support of the Church and for relief of the poor. See Canon 222. The Code is silent about the tithe but did not abrogate the tithe.

    Why Doesn’t the Code of Canon Law Talk about the Tithe

    If the Code of Canon Law speaks of giving to the Church and the poor, one reasonably might ask why doesn’t it talk about something as big at the doctrine of tithing?

    First, the code leaves some moral teachings to exhortations instead of strict canon law, so that the faithful may grow in holiness and charity. “Hence unduly rigid norms are to be set aside and rather recourse is to be taken to exhortations and persuasions where there is no need of a strict observance of the law on account of the public good and general ecclesiastical discipline.” Code of Canon Law, Preface to the Latin Edition, 3.

    Second, the code recognizes that different parts of the world have different circumstances and leave administration to the local bishop, on the principle of subsidiary. “On the basis of the same principle [subsidiary], the new Code entrusts either to particular laws or to executive power whatever is not necessary for the unity of the discipline of the universal Church so that appropriate provision is made for a healthy decentralization while avoiding the danger of division into or the establishment of national churches.” Code of Canon Law, Preface to the Latin Edition, 5.

    Third, local involvement of civil governments in the administration of the tithe sometimes muddies the waters. For instance, civil governments in Catholic countries have sometimes taken on the administration of the tithe. Under German tax law, a tax is collected by the government and given to the Church from those declaring to be Catholic, so the German national conference of bishops treats the church tax as satisfying the obligation to tithe. Until 1836, the United Kingdom collected a tithe from its citizens and paid it to the Anglican church, which caused much anger, especially in Catholic Ireland.

    God Does Not Demand the Impossible

    One will note that the definition of heresy is the “obstinate denial . . . of some truth.” Although it is heresy to hold or believe that withholding the tithe is licit, failure to pay the tithe may or may not be sinful, depending on the circumstances.

    Throughout all of Catholic moral theology is the principle that God does not demand the impossible. The Church recognizes that there may be individual cases where giving 10% may not be immediately possible, especially where one has not previously been in the habit of tithing. The situation is analogous to the convert who has always worked on Sundays and is currently unable to attend weekly Mass. It may not be immediately possible to simply walk away from the convert’s duties, but in the vast majority of cases, it is possible over time to bring one’s life into conformance with the Catholic way of life. Similarly, someone who has never tithed in the past may be unable immediately to begin tithing and may require a period of adjusting his or her finances. Thus, Canon Law provides: “the Christian faithful, both as individuals and gathered together in associations, must take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others, and their own duties toward others.” Canon 223 §1

    The Tithe is a Separate Obligation

    Fundamentally, however, the obligation to tithe is for worship and not for the purposes of funding the Church or relieving the poor. Funding the Church and relief for the poor are separate obligations, though those obligations are often met by tithing. In some dioceses, the local bishop has specifically called for dividing the tithe between the parish and other giving.

    The doctrine concerning the tithe is centered on the divine duty to worship and the call to repentance. The basic theology can be summarized as God’s ownership, our stewardship, and final accountability. All of our money belongs to God, so we merely give to him a portion of what is his anyway. The proportion specified by scripture and by tradition has always been 10%, though the Church has the juridical power to specify a different amount. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 86 (Oblations and first-fruits) and Question 87 (Tithes)

    I have written extensively about the theology of giving and relationship between the tithe and worship. See The Theology of Giving, Stop Begging for Money and Teach Stewardship, and First Fruits, Sacrifice, and Covenant. As I have said over and over again, the primary purpose of giving is to save the giver’s soul.

  26. maternalView says:

    I’ve found better organizations than Catholic Relief Services to donate to. CRS is an arm of the USCCB getting millions from the government and supporting abortion and contraception providers. Google The Wanderer newspaper + CRS for interesting articles

  27. RLseven says:


    I guess I choose to believe CRS. I have followed and supported the agency’s good work around the world for many years. I trust our bishops to oversee that their operations conform with Catholic teaching.

    But I’d be interested in knowing about the charities you believe are worthwhile supporting, also. Thank you.

  28. maternalView says:

    Thank you for the links. I didn’t find them persuasive.

    Whether you find those articles persuasive or not consider that CRS receives millions of dollars from the US government. Surely your funds could be better allocated to good Catholic organizations who don’t benefit from the government trough. There are many little groups who struggle month to month. I tend to favor more local groups like the shrine near me, The Little Sisters of the Poor and the Carmelites (both I discovered to my delight are in my home state) and various small Catholic advocacy groups. But I do donate to the more known ones too.
    Here’s a list that seems reasonable. I see some there that are genuine Catholic charities but I don’t know all of them.

    I applaud your diligent efforts in donating regularly. More Catholics should be as thoughtful.

    [Little Sisters of the Poor. Wonderful.]

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