Friday, March 14, 2008

Fletch Is the Catholic Church "rich"?

I've been having a little look at the opinions posted on the NZ Herald site as regards the recent news non-story about the "new" or updated Seven Deadly Sins that one of the Bishops from the Vatican has come out with (but which has not been endorsed by the vatican or the Pope). There are quite a few people there on the Herald site commenting on number three, 'Accumulating Excessive Wealth' and criticizing the Catholic Church as being hypocritical because they are "rich" (as these opinion posters like to put it).

I've got news for you - we aren't.

In our own Parish, the Bishop has given the go-ahead for a new church to be built to service the entire area. It's been about five years or more since he gave the go-ahead and we STILL haven't raised enough money to get it built albeit after many fund raising sausage sizzles, stalls, auctions and many other events. Rich?? Give me a break.

The same can be said for the renovations to the roof and structure of the Cathedral in Auckland. Here's a quote from a newsletter about the renovations from 2005 -

The roof has to be replaced, floor redone, walls weather proofed and strengthened. The liturgical features of the Cathedral will be re-ordered and redecorated. The support of the parishes of the diocese is essential to raise the $10m needed for the conservation and restoration of the Cathedral. Bishop Pat reminds us that the Cathedral is a “Precious Heritage Entrusted To Us.” He appeals to us to help save St Patrick's Cathedral.

This again was largely supported through donations. Even as late as September last year the Church was appealing for donations -

Two million dollars is still needed to completely restore the cathedral. The Church will no doubt be praying that Aucklanders find it in their hearts to contribute.

What about overseas? A friend of the family recently went across and visited Vanuatu. The priest there was living in a leaking shack; so much so that he had to move his bed to avoid the drips of water.

Well then, you'll no doubt say that might be the case here but look at Rome. Well according to David MacDonald in his blog, he visited the restoration of the Sistine Chapel there and -

I could not take photos in there because a Japanese company owned the copyright. The Vatican didn't have enough money in the budget to restore the Sistine Chapel so a Japanese company did it in exchange for the copyright privileges. The Vatican itself has a yearly budget that is equivalent to the Archdiocese of Chicago, and frequently runs on a deficit.

What about all the sculptures and paintings and buildings that they own though? Well, no one really "owns" them. The assets are "public wealth". It's like a museum, or the art that at Buckingham Palace - it belongs to the people. According to my mother, Bishop Fulton Sheen once famously said in one of his programmes that if the Catholic Church sold every single thing it owned, there would only be enough to give tuppence to every person in the world. I'm sure that's gone up now but it still wouldn't be much.

I'll leave you with another quote from David MacDonald -

The big beautiful traditional Churches that receive the most complaints were not built with big bucks. They were built with the sweat of the brow of volunteers who worked 'till 11 PM every night after a full day of working their regular day jobs. They would do this for years until their community Parish was built. I wish I had that kind of tireless faith and dedication. That is the real wealth of the Catholic Church - the people, and 2000 years of prayers of the faithful.

18 comment(s):

Unknown said...

Well, the Catholic church may not be in the Forbes 500, but unless they sell all that they have and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33) they have too much money. And don't give me that 'tuppence to every person' garbage. If everyone used that excuse there'd be no charity at all.

The least the Catholic church could do would be to spend all their wealth on undoing the damage they've done by spreading their lies about abortion, contraception, sin, hell, etc. Oh, and don't forget the child rape.

Lucia Maria said...

Christopher, the Catholic Church is not a person. That passage in Luke refers to people, not organisations. Many individuals in the Church have given up everything to work for the poor - the materially poor as well as the spiritually poor. They've given up their hope of raising a family, having their own home, having their own space. Unless you've done that yourself, you have to be the biggest hypocrite on this website right now.

Would you like our government to sell everything "it" owns and give it to the poor? Not quite sure what the poor would do once the public hospitals were sold, but - there's your logic for you.

I.M Fletcher said...

Christopher, my link above to David MacDonald's blog answers that -


Some people see the beautiful Catholic art and say "sell it and give the money to the poor!" (Jn 12:5)

Judas' said "we could get 300 denari for that perfume and give it to the poor" (Jn 12:5) but Jesus corrected him "The poor we will always have with us."(Jn 12:3-8) Jesus' words sound cold and cruel toward the poor. But he saw that this valuable perfume was being used to build up the kingdom of God. He could also see into Judas' heart.

How do we reconcile Jesus' words "the poor we will always have with us" with his words to the rich man "go and sell everything you own and give it to the poor." (Lk 18:22) On the surface they appear in conflict . The difference is that the rich man's valuables did not build up the kingdom of God while the perfume (art for the nose) did. It would be used at his burial.

The Church could sell off all its art. These beautiful contributions to our faith and culture could be put in the back rooms of private collectors' studios. This would be comparable to Evangelicals closing down their recording studios, selling the recording equipment and stop making great Christian Music. We could redirect all this money to the poor. If the Church got fair market value for all its art and property there would be no more than a couple of dollars for each poor person in the world. Then it would be spent and we would have no art to enrich our faith and evangelize new Christians. Not only that but there would be no Church property and no Churches. I don't think this would be in service to God.

Anonymous said...

But what about all those ridiculously expensive jewels and robes where in the bible does it say oh and the pope should dress in clothes that cost enough to feed a small African nation?

Lucia Maria said...

Anon, envy is deadly sin.

Seán said...

Clowns like Christopher and Anon, with there one-track simplistic views will always be with us....unfortunately.

I.M. Fletcher - a good post. Covers parish, diocese, the church in poor countries and rich.

"The poor we will always have with us."(Jn 12:3-8) Now I know why so many on the left criticize religion and fail to grasp reality.

scrubone said...

"This would be comparable to Evangelicals closing down their recording studios, selling the recording equipment and stop making great Christian Music. We could redirect all this money to the poor."

No it would not.

The catholic art is not doing anyone any good - all you can do it look at it. It doesn't help anyone, and it certainly doesn't "evangelize new Christians" - what a bizarre thought.

Record companies on the other hand return profits that can be used by the church to help the poor.

"Would you like our government to sell everything "it" owns and give it to the poor? Not quite sure what the poor would do once the public hospitals were sold, but - there's your logic for you."

I would be quite happy for the goverment to get rid of it's art, fancy buildings etc and run on a very basic, needs only basis. Same goes for the church. There is no biblical mandate anywhere for churches to retain wealth and build massive edifices that the catholics have.

Frequently these edifices *have* been created at the expense of the very poor the church is supposed to be helping.

scrubone said...

But with regard to your post: all you have proven is that the church has money, but withholds it from worthy projects.

Whereas the denominations I've been involved in have funds across the national church for building new buildings, this post reads like it's the poor local congregation who has to raise every single cent themselves while the local bishop asks why they haven't finished yet.

I'm sure that's not the case, but you've not done yourselves any favours.

Lucia Maria said...

Scrubone, if I didn't know better, I'd think from your comments on need that you were a Marxist. You're not, are you?

KG said...

"...does it say oh and the pope should dress in clothes that cost enough to feed a small African nation?"
No sacrifice by anybody anywhere outside a small African nation will ever feed the people of that country.
Because whatever the sacrifice, however much the donation given, the leaders of Africa will steal it for themselves, as always.
Perhaps you'd be better suggesting that Mugabe sell some of his Swiss and French assets, worth countless millions?
After all, "charity begins at home", eh?
Whatever one's views about the treasures of the Catholic Church, giving them to Africa is an idiot idea born of ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Well, guys the Kingdom has many manifestations and modalities, and it is not my duty to pass judgment. In my own case I find myself thankful to be part of a covenant community of God where we never have enough money, because the Lord's people are busy giving it to support the needy, the proclamation of the Gospel, and Kingdom work.
Not that we are satisfied. There is so much so much more to do and we have done so little. We never have enough. This state keeps us humble, dependant and suppliant.
Sounds about right to me.
He Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills has given us this calling. We challenge ourselves with the truth that we have no rights to question His disposition.
Meanwhile, I think someone once said that he lived as poor while possessing all things.
Being constantly needy is such a powerful spiritual discipline for good.

Greg said...

Spread over 2,000 years what is the Catholic Church's rate of return?
Would you rather invest with Warren Buffett or would you invest in Church bonds? What makes you more money?
Warren Buffett.

As to selling everything, how does one feed the hungry and clothe the homeless if you don't have a pot to sit in yourself?

Swimming said...

Could one of the reasons the Catholic church is struggling to raise funds quickly be that Catholics dont give much money to the church per head of parishoner?

Anonymous said...

They are deluded hypocrites...whats new?

Anonymous said...


giving where there is need isn't inherently Marxist until it is forcefully applied at a nation state level. If one chooses to give, knowing how their funds are going to be used, it isn't Marxist.

The Church combining its assets and giving according to need is modelled in the early Church of Acts. I'm guessing they weren't Marxist. It was a VOLUNTARY redistribution of wealth.

On the wealth of the RCC, which I don't necessarily believe to be inherently wrong as I haven't given it enough thought to form an opinion, how is the RCC making payouts of millions of dollars, including a U.S payout of $650 million (US) for harrassment claims if it is poor?

I'm not digging for dirt here, just learning. My perception is that it has always been wealthy on a global scale, yet often struggling on a local scale, so when we talk about the RCC being poor or wealthy, I don't think we can use one part to argue for or against the status of the whole.

I.M Fletcher said...

Servant, interesting question. I haven't researched or anything but maybe they mortgaged off some properties? Perhaps that's why a Japanese company owns the copyright to the Sistine chapel.

There are different types of poor. Poor in a worldly monetary sense and poor in spirit. By selling off all it's property, the church might be able to help a very few for a very short time but where are those who need spiritual and emotional succor going to go to be ministered to and taught and blessed when there are no churches anymore?

It's not just the churches who minister - type 'Catholic Charities' into Google and you'll get 1,230,000 hits.
Then there are the hospitals, orphanages, schools and more. These provide support to millions on a day-by-day basis.

Gee I'm starting to sound like an ad on TV

Psycho Milt said...

My perception is that it has always been wealthy on a global scale, yet often struggling on a local scale...

Well put - charitable, diplomatic, but those of us with a more cynical bent can nevertheless draw our preferred conclusion from it.

Lucia Maria said...


The payouts in the US have come about because of the selling off of land and buildings that had been owned for decades or longer. I remember reading about bankruptcies of some dioceses in the US because of this. But, I'm not keeping track of it myself in detail; just noting articles on the matter in passing.

The thing is, the Church is old. Older than any person or institution around today. Because of that age, the Church owns buildings (including cathedrals, churches, monasteries, convents, schools, hospitals etc) that have been accumulated over centuries. But owning land does not necessarily make a person rich, nor does it make the Church rich, because the monetary value can only be gained either by renting or by selling. If you sell, which many seem to be implying the Church should do, then how would She function? All of the buildings she owns have a use.

Even the buildings sold off in the American dioceses had existing functions which are now no longer able to be performed in those locations.

Which gets onto the next subject - art. Why does the Church own art especially if it is worth money and able to be sold for great sums?

Art is now traded as a commodity, but that was not always so. Art was not commissioned for or given to the Church as a valuable thing to owned and locked away in a vault - it was for the glory of God, so that in looking upon beautiful art the faithful could have their souls lifted in a small way to heaven. Most of the art owned by the Church is religious and is available to the public to view.

Actually, this whole subject of art is one that I feel inadequate to explain fully. I know that I personally would much rather the art that was created for the Church hundreds of years ago and looked after by the Church in all that time stay as a treasure for future generations to marvel at than be sold off to a private collector for money that would never make up for the loss.

I think how the Church sees art and it's place in humanity is best expressed by the following letter to artist by Pope John Paul II. I don't even want to pull quotes out of it as they would lose their beauty. The whole letter is a coherent whole and needs to be read as a whole (or at least in large chunks).


When it comes down to it, everything the Church owns, she owns not for herself, but for the benefit of all humanity. Her first responsibility to the world is to bring God to all His children. What she owns in in service of that fact. Selling everything just to feed people just for a short space of time would result in a decreased ability to bring God to the people.

This whole conversation (not what you said in particular) really seems to focus on the first temptation of the Devil in the desert; that Jesus provide bread.

Jesus' response was that "Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes out of the mouth of God" (MT 4:4).

The Pope links this temptation with great insight to the temptation of Marxism today:

Is there anything more tragic, is there anything more opposed to belief in the existence of a good God and a redeemer of mankind, than world hunger? Shouldn't it be the first test of the Redeemer, before the world's gaze and on the world's behalf, to give it bread and to end all hunger? During their wandering through the desert, God fed the people of Israel with bread from heaven, with manna. This seemed to offer a privileged glimpse into how things would look when the Messiah came: Did not and does not the Redeemer of the world have to prove this credentials by feeding everyone? Isn't the problem of feeding the world - and more generally, are not social problems - the primary true yardstick by which redemption has to be measured? Does someone who fails to measure up to this standard have any right to be called a redeemer? Marxism - quite understandably - made this very point the core of it's promise of salvation: It would see to it that no one went hungry anymore and that the "desert would become bread."

From Jesus of Nazareth, Chapter 2.

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