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At one point in history, the Roman Catholic Church was the largest land owner in Europe. Given the power of compounding, the length of time for the compounding to take effect plus the huge principal size to start with, the Catholic Church should easily be the world's richest organization today. However, it is not. What happened to the accumulated wealth of the Catholic Church?

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Is this a valid history question? IMO Suits to politics.se than history.se. Also how do you find and define the world's richest organization? – AskingStory Oct 5 '13 at 8:33
I'm an on-again off-again member of politics.se so I can say this question would not qualify for politics.se. If there was a forensic-economics.se it could go there, but history.se is good enough fit. – LateralFractal Oct 5 '13 at 10:31
@LateralFractal There used to be an Economics.SE where this question would be on topic, but unfortunately it closed due to lack of interest / activity. – Yannis Oct 5 '13 at 12:37
When was it that the Roman Catholic Churches land ownership in Europe was at its peak (making it the largest land owner there) in your opinion? – Drux Oct 6 '13 at 6:37
The power of compounding only works if you believe in usury :) – DVK Oct 10 '13 at 17:16
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Most was circulated back into the community through Church charities and hospitals (scroll down to 'History of charity in the Church').

Some was taken by the state and thus became eventually owned by people (see Dissolution of the Monasteries: Continental Precedents for example).

Some was converted into buildings, icons, frescos, statues and other forms of patronage.

The remainder was converted in real estate, bullion and other investments. This residual might be a modest fraction of the total money that has flowed through the church, but does add up over the centuries.

The simple answer is no one quite knows how much money the Church has retained.

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Note that New Advent's Catholic Encyclopaedia is not remotely unbiased regarding modern society, but the resource is fairly good and the bias is fairly obvious and easy to work with. – LateralFractal Oct 5 '13 at 7:28
In other words, no one knows for sure. The Catholic Church could still be the world's richest organization today but no one can verify it because the Church is not subjected to an audit. – curious Oct 5 '13 at 7:31
It really depends on 'wealth' means. The church has about 1.2 billion members which divides the pie pretty thin if the church actually uses/spends the wealth. If church doesn't use or distribute the wealth (it isn't a democracy after all) then the wealth is more consolidated ("wealthy") but like a tree falling in the forest that no one hears - the wealth doesn't quite exist until it is spent. And I don't see the Church having a fire sale of its assets any time soon. Decentralising their wealth through democratic reforms is more likely to happen first. – LateralFractal Oct 5 '13 at 7:46
+1 - " no one quite knows how much money the Church has retained" Indeed. There are many things about the Church, its workings, its holdings, its archives and its storehouses, which remain unknown... The Vatican is the smallest nation-state, with perhaps the most secrets! – user2590 Oct 6 '13 at 19:58

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