Catholic Church's Massive Wealth Revealed
By Royce Millar, Ben Schneiders, Chris Vedelago, February 12, 2018, The Sydney Morning Herald
The Catholic Church in Australia is worth tens of billions of dollars, making it one of the country’s biggest non-government property owners, and massively wealthier than it has claimed in evidence to major inquiries into child sexual abuse.
A six-month investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald has found that the church misled the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by grossly undervaluing its property treasures in both NSW and Victoria while claiming that increased payments to abuse victims would require cuts to its social programs.
The investigation was based on intricate data from local councils that allowed more than 1860 valuations of church-owned property in Victoria. That showed that across 36 municipalities - including nearly all of metropolitan Melbourne - the church had land and buildings worth almost $7 billion in 2016.
Extrapolated nationally, using conservative assumptions, the church owns property worth more than $30 billion Australia-wide.
This put the Catholic church among the largest non-government property owners, by value, in NSW and Australia, rivalling Westfield’s network of shopping centres and other assets. It dwarfs all other large property owners.
"These figures confirm what we have known; there is huge inequity between the Catholic Church’s wealth and their responses to survivors," said Helen Last, chief executive of the In Good Faith Foundation.
"The 600 survivors registered for our Foundation’s services continue to experience minimal compensation and lack of comprehensive care in relation to their Church abuses. They say their needs are the lowest of church priorities.’’
The Herald’s findings come in the wake of the Royal Commission’s final report in December and raises serious new questions about the church’s decades-long bid to protect its assets and minimise compensation payments.
They also call into question the privileges the church enjoys, including billions of dollars in government funding each year to run services, exemptions from almost all forms of taxation, and minimal public accountability.
Monetary payments to abuse survivors have averaged just $49,000 under Towards Healing, the national compensation system established by the church in 1996.
The investigation included 40 Freedom of Information requests to local councils in Victoria, protracted negotiations for release of data from often reluctant authorities, and exclusive access to state government-owned information.
It identified church-owned properties across 36 municipalities - including nearly all of metropolitan Melbourne - with “capital improved values” (this includes land plus buildings) of just under $7 billion.
While the property portfolio features many churches, hospitals and schools, so too does it include offices, conference centres, car parks, mobile phone towers, tennis courts, and a restaurant.
The SMH used that data to extrapolate a conservative estimate of $30 billion in Catholic-owned property and other assets across Australia.