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Churches are financial black holes. Here’s what Congress can do about it.

Dec 20, 2018

By Andrew L. Seidel

Two nuns skimmed $500,000 over a decade from their Catholic school employer and gambled away the cash in Las Vegas, an internal investigation by the school revealed last month. While the incident seems unbelievable, it’s common, as churches often fall prey to fraud and embezzlement by employees. And though the fix is easy, Congress has done nothing about it.

Christian churches lose $63 billion each year worldwide to internal “ecclesiastical crime,” according to estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. That’s more than 16 percent of churches’ total income. The director of that study said in 2013 that “as much as 95% of fraud within churches goes undetected or unreported.” And yet, one in 10 Protestant churches still self-reported embezzlement in 2017.

These commonplace crimes are often swept under the pews to avoid scandals that would erode donor confidence. In 2016, Americans donated more than $120 billion to religious organizations, most of which were congregants donating to churches. Congregants often sacrifice a great deal donating or tithing to their house of worship. But in the case of the gambling nuns, the church is “not pursuing criminal charges after the nuns said they’re sorry.”

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