After a six month investigation, the veil has been finally lifted on the staggering amount of property the church owns in this country.
There is a certain irony behind the world’s largest charitable organisation continually facing allegations of corruption, embezzlement and abuse. This morning, a six-month investigation by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that the Catholic Church appears to have ‘grossly undervalued its property treasures in both NSW and Victoria’.
Based on conservative estimates, the figures look thusly:
- The Church in Victoria is worth more than $9 billion AUD
- The Church in NSW is worth more than $70 billion AUD (as of 2016)
- Extrapolated nationally, the church owns property which exceeds $30 billion AUD
- The church also has extensive non-property assets including internal banks and Catholic Church Insurance.
- This places the Catholic church as Australia’s second-largest non-government property owner by value, just shy of Westfield’s $34.3bn
The term ‘property’ is more precisely defined as the valuation of the thousands of Catholic-owned cathedrals, churches, monasteries, schools, mobile phone towers, tennis courts, offices and residences in Australia. So taking into account religious garments, penance, historic texts, brass candelabras, gold chalices and other ornate furnishings, this figure becomes much higher.
However, it’s important to note that these figures do not account for national Catholic expenditure. The Church is the world’s largest charitable group and the ongoing support of its regional and international humanitarian programs requires significant funding.
“As a charitable organisation it is important to remember we hold most assets for missionary purposes, not for profit,’’ says the Sydney Archdiocese spokeswoman. “It seems there are some who see the Catholic Church merely through the prism of assets and property, reporting and regulation.”
This gross undervaluation has presumably misled the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, leading to a shocking disparity between wealth and The Church’s response to sex abuse survivors. The Church’s claim that ‘increased payments to abuse victims will require cuts to social programs’ now appears to be false.
It seems there are some who see the Catholic Church merely through the prism of assets and property, reporting and regulation.
One example unearthed by the Royal Commission was that of Jon Ellis, a former altar boy abused by a priest in the 1970s. Attempting to claim compensation in court, the Church spent $800,000 combatting Ellis’ proposal, successfully arguing that it couldn’t be sued as it didn’t exist as an entity.
“That money was the accumulated wealth of generations of good faithful Catholics who gave with the best will in the world,” Neil Ormerod, a fervent Catholic, shared with Fairfax media this morning. “It was used, instead, on an immoral attack on an abuse survivor and church member.”
If charity and love is a central tenet of the Church, we cannot help but ask how minimal compensation and combative action against victims is justified?
Likewise if proved intentional, this also calls into question the privileges our government gives the Church, including billions of dollars’ worth of funding, exemptions from most taxation schemes and low public liability.
“Command and teach these things (…) set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” 1 Timothy 4:11-12 ESV It’s time for those part of the Catholic faith, and the wider Australian community, to start holding these religious leaders more accountable.