528 million euros. That’s the amount the Spanish Catholic Church takes into its coffers every year that falls outside the control of the taxman.

Driving the news

Spanish paper El Diario lifted the lid this Sunday on some shady aspects of the way the Church finances itself in the country.

In May this year, the Spanish Church revealed that it has a total budget of about 900 million euros a year.

That figure includes the more than 200 million euros it takes in through citizens’ voluntary tax return contributions.

It also encompasses the 113 million the Church receives through visits to the more than 1,300 heritage sites it owns in Spain – some put to its name illegally – and the 16 million the Church has borrowed in loans.

These amounts are subject to certain checks and balances, such as the private audits that have been carried out – only in the past two years – by PwC.

But the more than 500 million euros the Church receives through donations and payments for sacraments fall outside of all tax and auditing controls.

That’s 56% of its total funding.

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Go deeper

The Spanish Church takes in 335 million euros each year, first of all, in collections at Mass, endowments, bequests and other one-off or periodic donations.

But the informal nature of these alms – which often go straight to the pockets of priests or church volunteers – mean the real level of this means of Church income could be much higher.

The “black economy” around these offerings also extends to the amounts the faithful are also asked to pay for special Masses or sacraments like baptisms (40 euros on average in the different Spanish dioceses), marriages (150 euros) or funerals (90 euros).

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“Catholic Spain” goes the way of the dodo

Why it matters

The financiation of the Catholic Church is a particularly sore spot in Spain, where Catholicism has traditionally enjoyed great social and political prestige but where now only 1 out of every 5 people identifies as a believer.

The “black market” for sacraments is also controversial, particularly given that Pope Francis has insisted again and again that Mass is not to be paid for.

“Nothing! Understood? Nothing! You do not pay for the Mass! The Mass is Christ’s sacrifice, which is free. Redemption is free. If you want to make an offering, do it. But you do not pay for it! This is important to understand!”, Francis said, for example, at a Wednesday general audience in March last year.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.