The near-universal closure of Catholic parishes that began in late March 2020 was an unprecedented event in American Catholic history: one with spiritual, pastoral, and operational consequences for the nearly 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S.

A special report from The Pillar looks at financial consequences of the pandemic for parishes across the country.

Parishes in our study saw on average a 12% drop in offertory collections between 2019 and 2020. The average parish we reviewed collected $599,000 in 2019 offertory, and $70,000 less than that, or $529,000, in 2020.

To assess the impact of the pandemic on the financial health, we created a database of 2019 and 2020 parish collections data from 100 parishes in dioceses in ten selected ecclesiastical provinces across the U.S….

Here’s some data about the parishes we studied:

There is a limit to what the demographics of the zip code in which the parish resides can tell us. Often parishes draw most of parishioners from the area immediately around the parish, but some parishes see, either on weekends or during weekday Mass, a large influx of “commuter parishioners.” Still, the demographics convey the variety of communities in which the parishes we studied actually minister….

A look at the average collections by week across all 100 parishes in our sample makes clear that what happened at the start of the lockdowns in mid-March 2020.

2020 and 2019 data show two high points for weekly collections in American parishes. Christmas in its full liturgical season (perhaps in combination with secular notions both of making donations before the end of the tax year and of making resolutions for better tithing in the new calendar year) causes twin high points at the beginning and end of the calendar year, while Easter stands as the high point for giving in the middle of the year.

But in 2020 the normal Easter surge in giving was reversed: the very lowest weeks of tithing came during the Lent and Easter weeks when nearly all U.S. parishes were closed and not offering public masses.

By late May, the worst of the 2020 drop in parish had passed. Weekly collections mirrored the trend of the previous year through the rest of 2020 — but while the shape of the trend was the same, collections consistently averaged 13% lower than 2019 for the remainder of 2020.

The consistent drop-off is especially noteworthy given that for the first ten weeks of the year, before to the pandemic, average giving in 2020 was 5% above 2019 levels.

The effect of the pandemic on parish collections was not the same across all parishes or across all dioceses. We found significantly different average changes in collections in the different dioceses we examined in our data sample.

Within each diocese or regional group of dioceses, there was still significant variation. The parish that suffered the largest drop in tithing in 2020 was a large, mostly Hispanic parish in the inland region of Southern California, which saw a staggering 44% drop in tithing versus 2019. At the other end of the spectrum, one small rural parish in South Dakota saw collections increase by 35% during 2020.

Most parishes did not come especially close to those extremes….

The above comes from a March 22 story in The Pillar.