January 9, 2019 / 9:20 PM / 9 months ago

As U.S. Catholic churches struggle, their foundations' investments thrive

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Assets managed by U.S. Catholic foundations have more than doubled over the last three years, propelled by increased donations and stable market performance, according to a study by wealth advisory firm Wilmington Trust.

The study showed U.S. Catholic foundations, set up by archdioceses and dioceses across the country, managed $9.5 billion as of the end of 2018, up 106 percent from $4.6 billion in 2016 when Wilmington Trust released its first report on the sector.

The Catholic Church has come under intense scrutiny following settlements on sexual abuse scandals that have plagued it for years. Due to the enormous costs of settling sexual abuse claims, many dioceses have been in dire financial straits resulting in 19 Catholic Church bankruptcies in the last 14 years, according to watchdog group bishopsaccountability.org.

However, Catholic foundations are flourishing as they sought to separate themselves from the shadow of the embattled churches that created them.

The Wilmington report released late Monday showed that Catholic churches have created 181 foundations, up from 143 three years ago. Their funds are separate from the finances of the Catholic churches that set them up, market participants said.

“Catholic foundations are an important sector in investments and many of them are quite successful,” said Walter Dillingham, managing director at the Wilmington Trust’s endowment and foundations group, in an interview on Tuesday.

“The growth rate was not just on the investment side, but the fundraising was also significant,” said the author of the study entitled “Catholic Foundations Continue to Advance in the United States.”

The largest Catholic foundation was the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, with assets of $3.2 billion. It was founded in New York state in mid-2018 by its eight dioceses to support healthcare projects.

The Catholic Foundation of Minnesota was the second largest, with $358 million in assets as of the fiscal year ending June 30 2018, according to its website.

“The foundation provides a sense of protection for the future,” said Jeff Henderson, development director at the Archdiocese of Dubuque, in an interview.

“Pastors are in particular getting to understand this better so that’s why we are growing. We are trying to make them understand that we’re part of the solution to their financial challenges,” he added.

With the exception of the Mother Cabrini Foundation, these institutions manage an average of $38.1 million in assets, compared with $33.6 million three years ago.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Richard Chang

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