The financial crunch caused by COVID-19, which has exposed long-standing problems in the financial system, is also hitting churches very hard. The Catholic Church, being the largest and most influential, is bearing the hardest of the pain, for as the Wall Stree Journal points out, the financial crisis in the Church is becoming more obvious as the Church faces more closures and contractions.
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the Catholic Church’s finances, threatening its extensive charitable activities and leading bishops and parish priests to slash expenses and seek funds elsewhere.
The impact of the pandemic, which has pulled the global economy into a likely recession, has been felt at the highest levels of the church. The Vatican has temporarily lost its largest single source of income, the Vatican Museums, since their closure last month. The museums typically receive more than six million visitors each year, yielding revenue of some €40 million ($43 million).
“The principal problem for the Catholic Church is that it is asset rich but liquidity poor,” said the Rev. Anthony Stoeppel, who teaches church finance at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California. “The pope could in theory sell St. Peter’s Basilica but unless he does so he doesn’t have that money.” (source)
A person I know very well and have knowns for a long time works for a large parish somewhere in the northeastern US as a secretary for the Vicar for Priests (the “boss” of priests in the diocese). I spoke with her a few days ago and she said that her parish as well as every single parish in her diocese save one or two is financially destitute. She said that her parish will not close, but that she expects to see a lot of closures, perhaps as high as one-in-five and maybe more, to close in her diocese.
These problems have been around for a long time. The virus is just exposing what was already present, as with the rest of the economy.
Expect to see a lot of church closure coming soon.
In addition, this does not mean that the Evangelicals are going to see a “boom”. To the contrary, many are in an even weaker financial position than the Catholic Church, and if she gets sick, the small churches will absolutely not survive and there will be a lot more closures of the smaller types or traditional Protestant sects which are wealthy in real estate but impoverished in terms of membership and adherents.
Likewise, given the need for money and the animosity against the Church but also religion at large that has grown, one should not ignore the possibility of a English-style “confiscation” of church properties, this time using the tax codes, in the name of “legality” just as what happened almost five centuries ago.