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One of the priests who served at my high school and my family’s parish has been accused of abusing a student. He admitted to the incident, and was removed from office and sent to a psychiatric facility. Since then, four other people have come forward claiming that he abused them, too. It would not surprise me if the number of confirmed cases turns out to be higher than the one that Father Crum admitted to. My sister and my friends were creeped out by Father Crum. Among other things, he regularly took altar boys out for pizza and R movies, and there rumors that he bought them beer and showed them pictures of naked women, too. On top of that, pedophilia, ranging from sickos raping infants to people in authority taking advantage of people who aren’t quite of the age of consent, is more common than anyone likes to admit.

Whenever these cases break, everyone wonders why no one came forward at the time. Well, my sister and I kept saying that it was weird how Father Crum went out with the altar boys, but we were junior-high aged girls who were being snotty and disrespectful of a priest and jealous because the altar boys received special privileges. And now, the same people who dismissed us say that the men who are coming forward are pathetic folks bent on destroying a fine priest’s reputation for money.

BadChurch[1]You know what they say about denial. Because the abuse of minors by people in authority (of every faith and every denomination) happens so often, money is no motivation. The awards in many of these cases have been small. The Archdiocese of Boston paid out about $200,000 each to 86 victims of John Geoghan, a former Roman Catholic priest who allegedly molested as many as 150 boys. In total, that’s $17.2 million, but it’s not a lot of money per victim when you figure that the men involved were betrayed by people who were supposed to take care of them, that they had to take time off of work to testify for the suit, and that some of them probably had hefty therapy bills. (Geoghan was sentenced to ten years in prison for the assault and battery of one boy, where he was murdered by a fellow inmate.)

Now, most of the wealth of religious institutions is illiquid. It is in land and buildings, copyrights, and artwork. My current church, which is Episcopalian, is in a city landmark building. That means that it cannot be sold, except to another church, because the building itself cannot be altered without the consent of the City of Chicago. So much for having prime real estate on the north side of Chicago! The Vatican owns some of the most magnificent artwork in the world, but what’s it worth?  Some of masterpieces, such as the Sistine Chapel, are site-specific and cannot be removed. Other pieces could be sold, but there is societal value to having it open to the public. Admission to the Vatican Museums is €14, or about $19 U.S., right in line with the Art Institute of Chicago, which charges $18 per head and is much smaller (which is saying more about the the expanse of the Vatican Museums than of the stature of the Art Institute).

But it’s hard to know exactly what is going on with a church financially. Churches are exempt from paying taxes, but they do not have to file Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. Form 990, collected by a firm called Charity Navigator, is a public document that lays out a non-profit organization’s financial information, including salaries for its most highly paid employees. (It’s a fabulous resource for research on different charities, whether you are interested in donating money or are looking for a job.) But with no Form 990, it’s impossible to know what the financial situation of a church is, unless it files for bankruptcy.

Several Roman Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy because of the costs of settling sex abuse cases, too. Not only do they have assets that cannot be readily sold, but also have they lost donations from disgusted parishioners.  Like Bono said, the God they believe in isn’t short of cash. Believers can and do cut off the institutional church while keeping their faith.

I was probably lost to the Catholic Church in second grade, long before Father Crum arrived at my parish, when we were learning about vocations. Nuns always take vows of poverty, but not all priests do, and that made me mad. (I was passionate about the role of money in society even then.) I’m sorry, but either everyone in church employ should take vows of poverty, or no one should. I understand that most priests do not make a ton of money, but there are some who write bestselling bodice rippers or who are paid decently to run major institutions. The vow of poverty means that nuns cannot inherit property. Any legacies must be turned over to their orders. Those priests who have not taken a vow of poverty can receive an inheritance. Patrick O’Shea, a priest in the Archdiocese of San Francisco who abused several boys, did it at a vacation spot that he had inherited.  Too bad he didn’t inherit a fortune so that he could settle with his victims, making Catholics in the City of St. Francis pay for his deeds.

Those who don’t understand the power of compound interest are doomed to pay it, bankers like to say. Although Catholic dioceses have paid out millions to victims of abuse, the victims themselves have received very little. That’s because no one stepped in early on, when it was clear that a priest wasn’t behaving in a priestly manner. Diocesan authorities chose to let these problems compound, and the people in the pews are paying for their choice.

About the Author

Ann Logue

Ann Logue is a freelance writer and consulting analyst who is fascinated by business and technology. She has a particular interest in regulatory issues and corporate governance. She is the author of "Emerging Markets for Dummies" (Wiley 2011), “Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies” (Wiley 2009), “Day Trading for Dummies” (Wiley 2007), and “Hedge Funds for Dummies” (Wiley 2006), and has written for Barron’s, Institutional Investor, and Newsweek Japan, among other publications. As an editor and ghostwriter, she worked on a book published by the International Monetary Fund and another by a Wall Street currency strategiest. She is a lecturer in finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her current career follows 12 years of experience as an investment analyst. She holds a B.A. from Northwestern University, an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, and the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. How's that for deathly dull?

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