Alexandra DeSanctis, Staff Writer
Would you be surprised to discover that Catholics, on average, tithe and give less in charitable donations than other Christian groups? A recent study, funded by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, discovered that this is the case. Where does Notre Dame fit into this picture? As a preeminent Catholic university, what responsibility does the university have as a leader in unleashing Catholic generosity?
The new report, Generosity Inside and Outside the Church, studied the trends in and impact of Catholic generosity on causes outside of the Church. This groundbreaking study was conducted by Dr. Christian Smith of the Notre Dame Sociology Department and Brian Starks, Director of the Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative at Notre Dame.
University Spokesman Dennis Brown commented on the immense significance of the study in relation to Notre Dame’s mission as a Catholic university:
“It is the university’s vision to become a preeminent research university while maintaining excellence in undergraduate education and an unending commitment to Catholic teaching. All of our research—be it in the sciences, engineering, the arts, business, the humanities or social sciences—has value in various ways, and some, such as in this case, has particular value to the Church.”
Brown continued: “The study by Drs. Smith and Starks, which provides deep insight as well as possible solutions, is an excellent example of the kind of research that is a hallmark of Notre Dame.”
The survey on which the study was based was conducted in 2010 and was taken from 1,997 nationally-represented United States adults, 442 of whom were Catholic. The study discovered that the same basic factors that increase financial generosity to the Church are also essential to unleashing Catholic generosity in other areas of charitable giving.
Catholics who report spiritual engagement with their own financial resources are more likely to give to the Church and also more likely to make voluntary financial contributions to combat homelessness, reduce poverty, aid the elderly, support pro-life causes and more. Additionally, Catholics who make a conscious decision to give away more money not only donated more to the Church in the previous year, but also gave much more to other philanthropic causes. Finally, Catholics who follow a routine donation system contributed more than spontaneous givers—both inside and outside of the Church.
Because financial generosity in one area of life tends to spill over into greater generosity elsewhere, unleashing Catholic generosity will be helpful not only for the Church, but also for the broader world. In this respect, Notre Dame’s position as a leading international research institution places it in a role of great responsibility.
Starks commented on Notre Dame’s leadership in the realm of Catholic financial generosity.
“I think Notre Dame has a potentially important role to play in the larger Church as we engage in the New Evangelization,” Starks said. “Notre Dame has an opportunity to set an example and be a beacon for Catholics in the United States and globally when it comes to generosity and sharing the good news.”
The study revealed that American Catholics tend to be less financially generous to both religious and non-religious causes than members of other faiths. This revelation proves that promoting financial generosity to the Church can encourage Catholics to increase financial generosity in many other areas of life.
Focusing on the study in the context of Notre Dame, Smith discussed this finding. “American Catholics as a whole are relatively stingy financial givers, both to the Church and non-religious causes. Why that is so is a fascinating question,” he continued. “But within American Catholicism there are some extraordinarily generous givers and they have made a huge difference for institutions like Notre Dame.”
Smith said that Notre Dame stands apart, nearly unique in the world for the extraordinary loyalty and generosity of its alumni and friends: “This has made all the difference in what Notre Dame is and might be,” Smith stated.
The gap in Catholic giving is evident in the fact that Catholics in the survey donated, on average, $501 in the previous 12 months, as opposed to $985 for the average non-Catholic respondent. Overall, the American Catholic “giving gap” is largest in exclusively religious giving, but the gap also exists elsewhere. Catholics remain near the bottom, below members of other religious traditions, in terms of donations to non-religious causes. Altogether, US Catholics give significantly less on average than members of most other religious groups; the typical American Catholic donates less money than the average American.
Smith indicated that reversing this trend would have a remarkably transformative effect.
“One of the most neglected means of social, cultural, and institutional influence that ordinary people have is financial giving,” he explained. “Completely apart from the struggles of politics, policy, and the Supreme Court, American Catholics could literally change the world if they learned to become generous and smart financial givers, given the resources they already have. Not doing that is a massive lost opportunity, not to mention bad stewardship.”
The study concludes that encouraging financial generosity within the Catholic Church will not diminish generosity to other good causes. Instead, by helping to develop generous dispositions in religious giving, the Church will be able to foster greater generosity in other areas.
“I believe we, as a community, can model a spiritual life that, as Pope Francis says, centers on mission and reaches out to the margins,” Starks said of the Notre Dame community’s role in fostering a more generous mindset. “By sharing the Good News of God’s love and His generosity ever more broadly, we, ourselves, will be better able to accept God’s continuing gifts as He breathes life into our Church.”
This informative study provides powerful evidence for the argument that unleashing Catholic generosity in the United States will not only strengthen the Church, but also benefit the rest of the world.
Smith summarized the results of the survey with a powerful statement: “I say, if people believe the world should be different, then they need to put their money where their mouth is….Collectively, the effects of that could be unimaginably transformative.”
Alexandra DeSanctis is a sophomore political science major who is sick of explaining why she is a fan of New York sports teams. To discuss the Yankees’ offseason plans, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.