As part of the discussion on safeguarding our authority, finance remains topical because how we raise funds largely affects the extent of our respect and influence as individuals and as a Church. More particularly, it affects people’s disposition towards participating in the sacraments. Today’s post will explore how the Church acquires ecclesiastical goods.
The first question is about the Church’s general involvement regarding temporal goods. The Second Vatican Council affirms that the relationship between the Church and the political community is on three principles: autonomy and independence from each other, and cooperation between the two for the service of humanity (Gaudium et Spes, 76).
Hence, the Code of Canon Law states, “the Catholic Church has the inherent right, independently of any secular power, to acquire, retain, administer and alienate temporal goods, in pursuit of its proper objectives” (Can. 1254 §1). Canon 1254 is the first canon of Book V of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which focuses on “the temporal goods of the Church.” Can. 1260 restates the Church’s right to acquire goods when it affirms “the Church has the inherent right to require from the faithful whatever is necessary for its proper objectives.”
Themes on Church finances are topical in the global Church because the Church does not run on Hail Marys alone. The Church needs resources to carry out its mission. Jesus showed this. He needed the body of Mary, depended on the support of a group of women (Luke 8: 1-3), used the five loaves and two fish donated by a young lad to feed the five thousand (John 6:9-11), borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem, and borrowed the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
I identify twelve funding sources for the Church in Nigeria: stole fees, mass offerings, offertory collection, thanksgiving offering, annual harvest, monthly project collection, special collections, levies, tithes, private gifts, tuition fees from Church schools, and income from investments. The bishop or episcopal conference regulates some sources, such as stole fees and mass offerings, by fixing the prices. Dioceses fix the tuition fees of diocesan schools.
On levies, Canon 1263 states: “After the diocesan bishop has heard the finance council and the presbyteral council, he has the right to impose a moderate tax for the needs of the diocese upon public juridic persons subject to his governance; this tax is to be proportionate to their income. He is permitted only to impose an extraordinary and moderate exaction upon other physical and juridic persons in case of grave necessity and under the same conditions, without prejudice to particular laws and customs which attribute greater rights to him.”
Apart from levies, it is difficult to determine how much the Church can generate from other sources because the amount received depends on the donor’s decision or market forces. As we raise funds for the Church, let us always be cautious of how we do this so we don’t negatively impact our mission. The lay faithful are increasingly questioning the morality of some strategies we adopt in raising funds or encouraging people to donate. While infrastructure remains the ultimate evaluation criterion for priests in the Church in Nigeria, the Church in Nigeria is gradually moving beyond that because many parishes have completed their Churches, rectories, and Marian grottos.
As religious disinterest increases in Nigeria, we need to begin consolidation of finances to sustain the Church in Nigeria in the future. Some rural dioceses already have empty pews as people depart for the cities or abroad. We must not begin a new project. As offertory collection and other freewill donations have dwindled in the West, the savings, investments and Church tax paid in some countries largely sustain the Church today.
In other words, it is not necessarily the number of the faithful that makes a Church wealthy, but the wealth of that geographical territory. Consider Lagos and Okigwe, Nigeria and Germany. When the Church is poor, it struggles to fulfil its mission of holistic salvation of souls. Let’s remember that Jesus had the means that enabled him to carry out his mission effectively. He healed people and multiplied food to feed the hungry.
As we think of consolidation, we must accompany it with transparency and aggressive enlightenment of the faithful to prevent misinterpretation. One may ask if a hungry man saves. Indeed, it happens. We solve life equations simultaneously and not one after the other. Moreover, in reality, we are not always feeding our hungry and poor people. Instead, we are taking from them to boost our ego in accomplishing infrastructural projects or enriching ourselves. It is the living that uses an infrastructure. As Prophet Isaiah reminds us:
“For Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, they thank you, as I do this day; fathers make known to children your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18-19).
May God continue to help us🙏🏾