Withholding Tithes from the Church is Heretical

In America, we are conditioned to vote with our dollars. The classical economic concept of Adam Smith‘s “invisible hand” is deeply engrained in American society, with the concomitant “consumer sovereignty” mentality. However, redirecting our tithes and offerings away from the local parish or diocese is theft, and even heretical, according to Catholic doctrine.

Michael Voris has recently called for traditional Catholics to stop giving to Catholic parishes and dioceses that no longer adhere to the Catholic faith. Shane Schaetzel calls the effort “The Great Catholic Boycott.”

I have great respect for Mr. Voris and his ChurchMilitant.tv work. Mr. Voris is a tireless, uncompromising advocate for the fullness of the Catholic faith and is an enemy of modernism and heresy. Although his tone and language are often harsh and strident, and he is occasionally wrong, he has been, to use Pope Francis’ words, “shaking things up” for a long time, and in a much-needed way.

However, Mr. Voris’ call to withhold tithes is gravely erroneous. A boycott of Catholic parishes and dioceses evinces confusion about the purposes of giving and Catholic doctrine surrounding the tithes and first fruit offerings. As I have said before, “The primary purpose of giving is to save the giver’s soul.” Further, tithing is based on the Catholic doctrine of first fruits sacrifices as a part of worship. Seen in their proper light, the canonical oblications of the faithful to support the clergy and assist the poor are incidental to God’s call to conversion and command to worship.

Heretics and schisimatics have from time to time withheld tithes and offerings in protest against the Church. As an early example, the 13th century Albigensians taught that the tithe (giving 10% of income to the Church) was not necessary, and that first fruits and oblations could be given outside the Church. For those Albigensians returning to the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III required a “Profession of Faith” that, among other things, affirmed that the tithe must be paid to the clergy. See [Pope Innocent III, Letter entitled Fitts exempio, to Archbishop of Terraco, dated Dec. 18, 1208, at 427]. (“We believe that tithes and first fruits and oblations should be paid to the clergy according to the Lord’s command.”) The Albigensian view was condemned at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. [Blunt, John Henry, Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought at 16 (1874)]. (The relevant portion of the Council dealing with the Albigenses/Cathars has been lost to antiquity. See [Third Lateran Council – 1179 A.D., Introduction].

The Council of Constance infallibly repudiated tithe and offering boycotts, even when the boycott is well-intentioned. In response to John Wycliffe, the Council specifically forbade “each and every Catholic henceforth, under pain of anathema, to preach, teach, or hold . . . [that] people may withhold tithes, offerings and other private alms from unworthy disciples of Christ.” [Council of Constance, Session 15 (July 6, 1415), error 41]. See also, [Ibid., Session 8 (May 4, 1415), error 18] (condemning that “tithes are purely alms, and parishioners can withhold them at will on account of their prelates’ sins.”) Further, the Council condemned redirecting the tithe away from the secular clergy towards other ministries. [Ibid, error 38]. The Council’s decisions were affirmed and promlugated in Martin V’s bull Inter cunctas on February 22, 1418.

The Council of Trent was more blunt:

Those are not to be borne who, by various artifices, endeavour to withhold the tithes accruing to the churches ; nor those who rashly take possession of, and apply to their own use, the tithes which have to be paid by others; whereas the payment of tithes is due to God; and they who refuse to pay them, or hinder those who give them, usurp the property of another. Wherefore, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to whom it belongs to pay tithes, that they henceforth pay in full the tithes, to which they are bound in law, to the cathedral church, or to whatsoever other churches, or persons, they are lawfully due. And they who either withhold them, or hinder them (from being paid), shall be excommunicated; nor be absolved from this crime, until after full restitution has been made. It further exhorts all and each, that, of their Christian charity, and the duty which they owe to their own pastors, they grudge not, out of the good things that are given them by God, to assist bountifully those bishops and parish priests who preside over the poorer churches; to the praise of God, and to maintain the dignity of their own pastors who watch for them. [Council of Trent, Session XXV, Decree on Reformation, Chapter XII (Dec. 4, 1613)]

Were American bishops and priests doing a better job of teaching about stewardship in the first place, I suspect the “Great Catholic Boycott” would get much less traction. On the other hand, the effect of the boycott will be blunted, simply because Catholics are stingy givers in the first place. [See, e.g., Resources for American Christianity, Church Giving Tied To Gratitude And A Sense Of Mission (2009); Julia Duin, Giving in Different Denominations (2001); Generous Giving, Giving among Church Denominations (1993).]

Mr. Voris’ call to withhold giving to dioceses and parishes with errant bishops and priests, while understandable, should not be followed by Catholic faithful. However, his unceasing and tireless fraternal correction of errant prelates and preaching of the truth of the Catholic faith should be encouraged.