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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Riches of the Church

I've been having a discussion with someone regarding the riches of the Catholic Church, and care for the poor. I think we've all had this discussion before, and as Candy has brought up the riches of the Church on more than one occasion, I thought it would fit well on this blog.

The other person said:
On countries with a large Catholic population - absolutely these countries have vast degrees of corruption in their government but the church came first and has done little to nothing to alleviate poverty. Instead these people are raised to respect and fear their religion, to avoid using contraception to limit family size lest they burn in hell for comitting mortal sin. They have large families they can't adequately support and educate beyond their experience and the cycle continues and corrupt government reigns supreme.


I replied:
I just wanted to point out that while I hear that the Catholic Church is the richest church in the world thrown around a lot, it really doesn't work out to be as simple as that. The Catholic Church does not have a lot of "liquid" assets. They have a lot of big old churches, which aren't filled with enough people to pay for the upkeep and heat and AC. The Vatican itself has a lot of assets in things such as art works and tapestries, which also require a lot of upkeep, and don't pay their own rent. Having the Sistine Chapel restored was not cheap.

The local churches are financially independent based on their diocese. We don't send all of the money to the Vatican, and then they dole it out. If a local church runs a food pantry, it is all done based on what the parishioners donate. A very small amount is sent the Vatican, and most of that is for a charity called Peter's Pence.

The Vatican's state budget is less than the operating budget of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and has run on a deficit the past few years. Some have noticed that Pope Benedict is wearing more "old style" vestments, and assume this is because he prefers the style. It may be, but he declined to have a whole bunch of new vestments sewed up for himself, and has worn things from the closet instead, to save a bit of money.

In addition, I looked up the poorest countries in the world. Burundi is the only one which is even close to predominately Catholic. The Solomon Islands are predominately Anglican, and you certainly can't say they are anti-contraception!

1. Malawi
2. Somalia
3. Comoros
4. Solomon Islands
5. Congo
6. Burundi
7. East Timor
8. Tanzania
9. Afghanistan
10. Yemen

I wonder why you don't point a finger at the Muslim religion? They also generally do not encourage birth control but have the added population booster of polygamy, and their governments also tend to be more corrupted. Most of the countries on the full list of the 50 poorest countries were in Africa, where Islam holds a large part of the population. On the other hand, Uganda is an African country which is predominately Catholic and they are far from being poor, and their HIV rate has dropped dramatically after adopting an abstinence based approach.


She replied:
This is pretty much what I was touching on when I said that despite the Catholic church being the richest in the world, nations where Catholicism are among the poorest. The Vatican holds an immense array of goods that would fetch billions if sold. Is it fair that tens of millions of dollars are spent on restoring the Sistine chapel when many Catholics are literally starving? Why is it ok to continue to spend money on a priceless cache of tapestries and artworks (most of which are never even seen by the public) when people who as a nation subscribe to Catholicism as their faith, cannot afford the basics?



My response:
First, I have already pointed out that the countries which are majority Catholic are NOT among the poorest in the world. Not even in the top 50.

Judas once suggested that Mary Magdalene was wrong to spend a large sum of money for oil to anoint the head of Jesus. He said the money would be better spent on the poor. Jesus said, the poor will be with you always.

To me, what you have just written is a very communistic view. Suppose the Catholic Church sold absolutely everything and fed every poor person in the world for, what, two or three weeks? Then what?

The Catholic Church holds these works of art on behalf of every person on the planet. Most of them are available to be viewed for free, just by walking into a church. A trip to the Vatican Museum will cost you about $20. A day at Disneyland will cost you $300. The Vatican Museum is open to the public for free at least two days every month. If the Catholic Church sold Michaelangelo's Pieta to Donald Trump, I wouldn't be able to view it in his house. But if the Catholic Church keeps it, I can walk into St. Peter's any day I want to, and view it, without paying a cent.

By all means, let us have a world without beauty. That would certainly be great, wouldn't it? Let's all wear the same gray clothes, so that we can spend more money on the poor and less on fashion. Let us all eat off of industrial white dishes and live in government block apartment buildings. As long as everyone is fed and clothed, then we can easily give up beauty. Only, it doesn't really work that way. A world without beauty robs you of your soul. Even the poor find ways to add beauty to their homes. All of the great cathedrals of the world were built by the poor, who willingly gave much from their little to be a part of building something greater than the individual, something beautiful that can be viewed by rich and poor alike, and something that will last much longer than a bowl of rice.

Does this mean that the Church should focus on beauty and ignore the poor? Absolutely not. As has already been pointed out, the Catholic Church is the single largest charitable institution in the world. The Catholic Church provides 25% of all the HIV/AIDS relief in the world. While what you wrote seems to imply that the Catholic Church should be feeding those in the Catholic nations, we provide relief regardless of religion, all over the world.



Although I didn't mention it in the discussion, I was reminded of St. Laurence.

As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum.

When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows.

When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”



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11 comments:

Erika S. said...

Outstanding post!

Annie C said...

Well none of us can speak about the whole church. As Kelly said, it's on a diocese and parish basis. I know that in our little parish our big charity is the hospital, we put in a lot of service and fund raising for them.

Ahem...

In 2007 Providence Medford Medical Center delivered over $18 million in charitable services, assisting over 10,000 adults and 5,200 children who needed care and did not have the means to pay for services. An additional $234 thousand was contributed to other Rogue Valley charitable organizations that provide charity to the poor and underserved population whose needs are outside the scope of Providence Medford Medical Center's services.

Charity care at Providence encompasses a diverse population in our community including the underinsured, the working poor, the indigent and homeless population (including homeless children), seniors, and those with mental and physical limitations and addictions.


At the same time our church is a converted fruit stand, with artwork done and donated by church members. Granted we are thinking maybe, finally a new building in the next decade.

I think we're doing our part.

-----

Sorry if this post was a little off, no coffee yet.

Perplexity said...

I find it very interesting that someone - anyone - would think that the Vatican is like a bank, as if the money in the collections at your local perish are sent off to Italy and pooled into one pot and then redistributed.

It is a mistake to think that since the Vatican or any single Catholic church has money, or supposedly has money, that every Catholic parish does as well.

Every church, regardless of denomination, is as individual as the location in which they sit. Catholic and any other denomination. I don't understand why the Catholic church is looked at so differently than any other. And, in this case, I really am talking about the actual building. Churches exist within their community. Regardless of denomination. At least respectable churches that are there for the people.

Sal said...

A winner, Kelly! You are smokin' today!

Seriously, I'm more and more enamored of the Socratic method:
"When you say 'riches of the Church', could you explain a little more what you mean by that?"
"Could you tell me just how you think Catholic parishes handle their finances?"
"Where on the scale of charitable institutions do you think the Catholic Church falls, world-wide?"
"Could you compare and contrast for me how Catholic churches do their finances and your church does theirs?"

Helps get at the real question or separate the taunters from the genuinely curious.

Nancy Parode said...

The truth is, many inner city parishes are closing because they can't pay for basics like electric bills and roof repairs. Each diocese goes through an annual budgeting process, and wealthier parishes help to pay the expenses of poorer ones. The Vatican receives the annual Peter's Pence contribution, but they still can't renovate everyone's quarters or live in luxury there.

Many U.S. parishes are selling assets such as land and buildings, but you can't sell everything. How can you feed the poor without a soup kitchen to store and cook food items? As annie c says, hospitals are important, too, and they need funds for upkeep as well as for charitable service.

One of our local churches - Christian - has a huge new building, with a recording studio setup so worship services can be recorded, a coffee bar, at least 6 classrooms, tons of office space and more. I have never been in a Catholic church like that - and I've lived in two countries outside the U.S. and four states.

Somehow you never hear anyone criticize these independent churches for spending money on their facilities. Why is that?

Kelly said...

I find it very interesting that someone - anyone - would think that the Vatican is like a bank, as if the money in the collections at your local perish are sent off to Italy and pooled into one pot and then redistributed.

I have found this to be a very pervasive view among non-Catholics, religious or not. Most people seem to feel that the Vatican runs everything, large or small.

Similarly, I have had people be very confused as to how there can be differing points of view in the church. When Fr. Greeley writes about women's ordination, they either think he must be speaking authoritatively for a change that is eminent, or they don't understand why the Pope doesn't immediate censor him.

Seriously, I'm more and more enamored of the Socratic method:
"When you say 'riches of the Church', could you explain a little more what you mean by that?"


Yes, most people just toss out conventional wisdom and don't take the time to think through what they are saying. This particular person is always saying things that are pretty ridiculous and then it's my job to google after her. For example, she once said that because of welfare programs, cities are much safer now than they were 100 years ago! How many seconds does it take to find that the crime rate is much higher now? Of course, you have to take into account population increase, drug use, and other factors, but still, at least you'd be having a discussion based in reality instead of some scenario that doesn't exist.

On the whole, I've found that most people, like Candy, prefer resting on their assumptions to learning what the situation really is, and then having a discussion about that.

The truth is, many inner city parishes are closing because they can't pay for basics like electric bills and roof repairs.

Yes, every time the sex abuse scandal comes up, I think of what a shame it is that those diocese are having to sell property and close building that benefit so many people, all because of the actions of a few individuals. Certainly, the victims deserve to be compensated in some way, but I don't think that depriving people of their churches and schools is the way to do it.

I'm glad you all liked the post. :)

Perplexity said...

I misspelled parish and feel like a fool. That's what I get for relying on Firefox automatic spell check; no red underline makes it all okay....not.

motherofmany said...

Nancy,

Actually many people are offended by the mega-churches that resemble mini-malls. A lot of criticism comes from within the same denomination as is being criticized:

http://www.topix.com/forum/city/knoxville-tn/TJ2DGT63RR9II0RT8

a comment from the above link says, "Do we really need a gym, movie theater, etc, to preach Jesus? Jesus hath no where to lay His head (Mat.8:20)if Jesus did not have a dwelling place to teach the 12 disciples and multitudes, why should we?"

http://www.fretboardfellowship.com/pages/article01.html

http://www.worshipfacilities.com/article/17929.html
_____________________________

How many seconds does it take to find that the crime rate is much higher now?

Watch out, Kelly, or you'll be mistaken for a 'doom and gloom' fundie! ;)

Sal said...

'Where are you going, O father, without your son? Where are you going, priest, without your deacon?'

St. Lawrence is the best...

Nancy Parode said...

Motherofmany,

Fascinating links. Thank you very much for providing them.

I never read comments about church size around here...but I've often wondered how neighbors feel when a mega-church goes in on their tiny street. Now, I have a better idea.

Thanks!

Sue Bee said...

Instead these people are raised to respect and fear their religion, to avoid using contraception to limit family size lest they burn in hell for comitting mortal sin. They have large families they can't adequately support and educate beyond their experience…

A common false impression among non-Roman Catholics is that RCs do not use contraception. Fertility rates tell a different story. 2.10 children per woman is considered replacement rate or zero growth. Of the top 25 predominately RC countries (80 to 95% RC), over half fall below the replacement birthrate. The lowest birthrates of these heavily RC countries are Italy 1.30, Spain 1.30 and Poland 1.27. In fact, these are some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. The top three countries on the list are Haiti 4.79, Paraguay 3.8 and Honduras 3.38. 37th, 54th, and 62nd highest in the world respectively. They are also among the poorest.

If Roman Catholics were not using contraception the fertility rates of countries whose population is 80-90% RC would be high regardless of economic situation. As it is, the countries of the world with the highest fertility rates are predominately Muslim and predominately poor.

(Source: CIA Fact Book)