Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I grew up in a Protestant church but converted to Catholicism. Sometimes it seems to me that Catholics give a lot less money to their churches than Protestants do. (The Sunday collections reported in our parish bulletin would, I think, be dwarfed by some Protestants parishes much smaller than our own.)

On the other hand, Catholics do seem to give a lot to charities overall. (Just in our own town, there is a Catholic hospital, several Catholic schools and many programs of human service supported by Catholic Charities). I’m wondering what the Catholic Church’s view is on tithing and whether money given to Catholic, nonparochial institutions can count as tithing.(Illinois)

A. Your question brings to mind a comment I once heard from a Catholic pastor. He said: “If a Catholic couple has $50, they go out to dinner; $20, they go see a movie; $10, they get fast food. But if they have $1, they go to church.”

There is some truth behind the complaint. A national study in 2003 showed that Protestants typically give 2.6 percent of their income to their local churches, while Catholics give 1.2 percent. Some analysts speculate that, because an average Catholic parish in America numbers 3,100 people while Protestant congregations are usually one-tenth that size, Catholics have a diminished sense of personal responsibility.

As your question suggests, however, the percentages given above are only part of the story. Catholics also support the nation’s largest network of private health care institutions and social service agencies. And while the thousands of dollars paid by parents for Catholic school tuitions are technically not charitable donations, they do in fact contribute to the overall religious mission of the church.

Many Catholic dioceses recommend that their members contribute 5 percent of their take-home pay to their parish and an additional 5 percent to other charities. There is, though, no strict obligation for Catholics to tithe. Tithing is based on several Old Testament passages, such as Leviticus 27:32, which says: “The tithes of the herd and the flock, every tenth animal that passes under the herdsman’s rod, shall be sacred to the Lord.”

Among Christian believers, Mormons are the most strict in carrying that prescription forward. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 79 percent of Mormons tithe to their church. The Catholic obligation is more general: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses in No. 2043, “The faithful … have the duty of providing for the material needs of the church, each according to his abilities.”

Q. I’m aware of an upcoming wedding in a local Catholic parish. The bride and groom have been living together for some time, although not yet married. The bride was also enrolled in a parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, although I’m not sure whether she has been received yet into the church.

I know that we’re not supposed to judge, but all this puzzles me: How can she want to become a Catholic when she rejects the church’s teaching by cohabiting, and how can she now get married with the Catholic Church’s blessing? (Wichita, Kan.)

A. The teaching of the church on cohabitation is clear. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it this way in No. 2350: “Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity. … They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love.”

Since every priest is acutely aware that many Catholic couples are already living together as husband and wife before being married in the church, some have seen the need to express this teaching even more forcefully.

Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., did so in 2011. In a statement entitled “Pastoral Care of Couples who are Cohabitating,” he said that “those who cohabit … are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive holy Communion. They are in great spiritual danger. … They should marry in the church or separate.”

He also said that such couples may not be commissioned as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion nor allowed to be sponsors for baptism or confirmation.

As applied to the RCIA, the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., states concisely in its published guidelines: “No one in a situation of cohabitation may be admitted to the order of catechumens or as a candidate until that sinful situation is ended.”

This takes on added importance since candidates and catechumens are typically welcomed by a parish in a public rite of acceptance and the possibility of scandal is multiplied. All of this should be explained to couples with sensitivity and kindness, but without sacrificing honesty.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.