Finweek English Edition - - COVER STORY -

Like the Pen­te­costal churches, more tra­di­tional Chris­tian churches have also re­lied on com­mu­ni­ties for f inan­cial sup­port. None have fared bet­ter than the Ro­man Catholic Church, which has amassed an in­cal­cu­la­ble for­tune in prop­erty, fine art and other as­sets through the ages.

The Catholic Church has at var­i­ous stages in the past found ways of charg­ing for just about any­thing from pil­grim­ages to the preven­tion of ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the church. At low points in the church’s his­tory the “slightly wicked” (those who were not con­demned to hell) were even al­lowed to pur­chase “in­dul­gences”: at a price one could have cen­turies or millen- nia knocked off one’s time in pur­ga­tory, where it was be­lieved souls could lan­guish for thou­sands of years.

Although the power of the Ro­man Catholic Church waned fol­low­ing the Re­nais­sance, the Ref­or­ma­tion and the sub­se­quent frac­tur­ing of the church, the mod­ern Vat­i­can is still so se­cre­tive and has re­tained so much trea­sure the value of which can only be guessed at. Fi­nan­cial ex­perts can trace some­where be­tween $10bn and $15bn worth of as­sets, in­clud­ing stock­hold­ings in banks, in­surance, chem­i­cals, steel, con­struc­tion and real es­tate. Div­i­dends from th­ese as­sets pay for Vat­i­can ex­penses and char­i­ties, and all of the Vat­i­can’s in­come is tax-free. Some com­men­ta­tors say the above fig­ures re­flect an un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of the Church’s true wealth, which could run into hun­dreds of tril­lions of dol­lars if al­le­ga­tions of an un­de­clared for­tune in gold and fine art turn out to be true.

The Church of Eng­land, partly founded by Henry VIII in the six­teenth cen­tury to defy Pope Cle­ment VII, who wouldn’t grant him a di­vorce from Cather­ine of Aragon, has like­wise amassed a for­tune in a few cen­turies. Once the big­gest landowner in Bri­tain, most of the Church of Eng­land’s land was since sold off and ploughed into an in­vest­ment port­fo­lio worth around $6.7bn, which is said to earn over $244m in in­ter­est and div­i­dends an­nu­ally. Other sources of in­come in­clude cash do­na­tions from con­gre­ga­tions, lega­cies, events and ser­vices.

The a c c u mu l a t e d wealth of many t ra­di­tional Chris­tian churches has been rein­vig­o­rated by mod­ern pur­vey­ors of the “pros­per­ity gospel”. In South Africa, th­ese in­clude churches set up

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