One result of the crisis, then, is the catastrophic weakening of the nation’s wealthiest religious body. At first sight, few people would probably feel too sympathetic seeing a powerful institutions forced to suffer for past misdeeds, but the Catholic Church is a large and complex entity. It is a major owner of property in the form of churches and schools, and its charitable enterprises are an essential part of the social safety net. No diocese can afford to lose tens of millions of dollars without cutting back on services, closing facilities and merging congregations.
These changes have most acutely affected already troubled inner city areas, as dioceses have scaled back plans to build new churches to accommodate the enormous influx of mainly Catholic immigrants from Latin America and East Asia. If the abuse crisis had never happened, American cities would probably be in the middle of a church building boom much like that of a century ago, with all that implied for construction, investment, and social capital. Scholar Anthea Butler observes that the Catholic meltdown has neatly coincided with the economic collapse of many big city Pentecostal churches, which had suffered from unwise investments or outright fraud, aggravated by the 2007-2008 economic crash. Combining the two crises has left America’s already troubled urban heartlands far weaker than they might otherwise have been.