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Scandalous Wealth:
Of The Church, Or Of Her Slanderers' Imagination?

Thomas Couture. Romans of the decadence.
(Thomas Couture. Romans of the decadence. Source)

1) Introduction

Recently, I was asked the following question:

"How can we accept the behaviors of the Catholic Church concerning Her scandalous wealth? Indeed, for example, if the Church sold all Her works of art, Her real estate, etc., there would be enough to feed a large part of Africa for a long period of time!"

To answer that question, I'll first divide the Catholic Church's material wealth into several categories. Then, I'll examine each category to see if it's justifiable, or scandalous.

2) Division of the Church's material wealth

In my opinion, the Church's material wealth can be divided into five categories:

2.1) Room and board. Whatever is necessary to house and feed the Church's "employees", like for example a modest rectory and small salaries for a Parish's Priests, or a convent and enough donations to pay for heating and food for an order of nuns, etc. In other words, the quantity of money it would take to provide a decent standard of living to these people, even if they weren't Catholics.

2.2) Worshipping. Here we include all buildings related to religious ceremonies, including all the religious works of art which embellish them, the real estate on which these buildings are located, the cost of Mass wine and non-consecrated hosts, etc.

2.3) The facilities and funding of charitable works. For example, a Catholic hospital, a parish school, a soup kitchen, etc.

2.4) All the real wealth of the Church which isn't part of categories 2.1 to 2.3 here above. This is the properly scandalous part, if there is one.

2.5) All the imaginary wealth of the Church. This is the part of the Church's wealth which only exists in the fertile imagination of Freemasons, Communists, etc.

3) The wealth which cannot be scandalous

Among the categories listed here above, we can right from the start eliminate #2.5 (the Church's imaginary wealth). There are many slanderers who only open their mouths to spill out their venom on the Church. If you want to accuse the Church (or anyone else), show verifiable facts, or be quiet.

The second category we can eliminate right off the bat is #2.3 (the facilities and funding of charitable works). If you're really worried about the fate of Africans (and of all other men who suffer poverty), you won't have anything against efforts to reduce poverty! At the most, you might say that some of those facilities could be better managed by someone else. Maybe, but we have to examine this case by case. (And in general, free, gentle, honest and hard-working nuns are hard to beat!)

I'd also eliminate the first category, #2.1 (room and board). Catholics have the right to eat and sleep! Of course, a Communist could argue that it's bad to house and feed people who don't do anything good for society. We could reply with arguments in favor of religious freedom, but I think the final answer to this type of question requires studying the disastrous effects of Atheism. Then, we have to study the beneficial effects on society of the official teachings of the Church. (We'll talk about these beneficial effects here below, at points #5.7 and #5.8.)

4) Short accounting interlude

What about the scandal? Before scrutinizing the last two possibilities (#2.4 and #2.2), let's do a short accounting interlude. In my opinion, we need to keep in mind a few ideas when looking at the finances of the Catholic Church:

4.1) When looking at figures of the Church's finances, relate them to institutions of comparable size and age. Even with the two previously-justified categories of wealth (#2.1 and #2.3), we're talking about a considerable amount. Let's not forget that there are roughly one billion Catholics on earth, and that the Catholic Church is one of the oldest institutions in the history of mankind, and one of the most pervasive on the planet. The calculation isn't as simple as "one billion Catholics, times one dollar per Catholic per year, multiplied by two thousand years", but it's clear we're not talking about the budget and the assets of the neighborhood hot-dog stand.

4.2) The Pope only partly controls the finances of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church isn't a private corporation listed on the Montreal or the New-York stock exchange. The Pope isn't the CEO, and there isn't a Chief Financial Officer either. Financially, the Catholic Church looks a lot more like an informal confederation of independant entities. Your Parish's budget isn't connected to the budget of the neighboring Parish. If your Diocese has a deficit, your Bishop doesn't have the authority to go dip into the neighboring Diocese's surplus (nor does the Pope, as far as I know). If you start up a new religious order tomorrow, and you receive many donations, the Pope doesn't have the autority to come and take your donations. If you see (like me) a rich religious order sell a beautiful monastery to anti-Catholics, even though they don't need any money (neither the religious order, nor the anti-Catholics), there is no use sending a letter to the Pope.

4.3) The Church's money normally comes from the pockets of people like me who want the Church to have their money! A good Catholic is supposed to regularly contribute to his local church (called "tithe", or "capitation", etc.), as well as to the universal Church ("Peter's Pence"), and if possible to other good works (like good contemplative religious orders, or foreign missions, etc.). If I look at my contributions over the years, I observe that: (1) I live in relative wealth while contributing little to my own Church; and (2) Canada would be bankrupt by Monday, if the Taxman collected taxes with the same laissez-faire that the Catholic Church collects Her due!

5) Category 2.4: the scandalous wealth strictly speaking

Let's now scrutinize Category #2.4, i.e. the scandalous wealth strictly speaking. In my opinion, we just need to open our eyes to observe that such a scandalous wealth exists. I'll give you one example, that I happen to have seen a few days ago: Milwaukee's ex-archbishop, Rembert Weakland, who ordered his Diocese to pay his sodomitic lover Paul Marcoux the handsome sum of $450 000 USD to buy his silence (Source). Enough to feed several Africans for a long time!

Some could argue that this money was not collected for such scandalous ends, but so what? In a way, any money which ends up in category #2.4 could be "de-scandalized" by being transfered into #2.3 (charitable works). Except the opposite is also true. All money which is not "de-scandalized" is scandalous!

So the question must be asked: "How can we accept the behaviors of the Catholic Church concerning Her scandalous wealth?" I'll try to answer in a clear and complete way. Since this reasoning is very important for my whole web site, I tried to order my reasoning in a dozen logical steps. Ideally, you should scrutinize each link in the chain, one after the other, starting with the first:

5.1) You love (at least a bit) justice and truth. If this were not the case, you wouldn't be scandalized at the idea of rich and decadent people who claim to transmit a divine message. Especially since this message comes from a Messiah who lived in abject poverty, and who said: "Blessed are the poor" [Lc 6:20], and "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God" [Mt 19:24].

5.2) You are not particularly scandalized by the decadence in many other religions. In other words, you know very well that there are many false religions, and that these false religions teach all kinds of dumb things, and encourage their members to follow their stupid teachings. See Section 2 of: Must We Respect All Religions? (I still get a giggle out of the 93 Rolls-Royces of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh! Hilarious! 93 Rolls-Royces!)

5.3) You probably don't consider money to be intrinsically evil. You probably have a job, collect your paycheck, and you'd never willfully put your dear spouse and your children into a run-down slum, etc.

5.4) You can make the difference between the official teachings of an institution, and the behaviors of some of its members. In other words, a religion can have very good teachings, despite the presence of certain members who live in sin. This distinction between the value of official teachings, and the moral judgment we can make about the people who transmit those teachings, is actually taught by Jesus Himself! He says about hypocrite pharisees: "Do and observe everything they teach you, but don't do as they do" [Mt 23:3]

The example I often give to people (and it's a scientific experiment you can do by yourself), is the "Good Guys Club". You write that Club's Constitution, with a long list of all the virtues the members must acquire (humility, chastity, justice, wisdom, sobriety, etc.). Then you add members to that Club. I guarantee that, given a statistically significant number of members, somebody will violate the rules of your Constitution. Will that mean your constitution is bad? No. Will that mean that the list of virtues to acquire contains vices? No.

5.5) We can decide whether the teachings of an institution are good, either by examining them, or by examining their effects. For example, we can see that the teachings of the "Good Guys Club" are good, by reading the list of virtues this Club asks all its members to acquire. For the effects of a teaching, our plain common sense tells us that we can judge a tree by its fruits.

5.6) When examining the effects of anything (including a religion), we must correctly distinguish the cause. The example I sometimes give is: "If you want to check the effectiveness of a new antibiotic, but sometimes you inject that new antibiotic, and sometimes you inject sewage water, it's fair to say your research won't be very scientific!"

Because of the great importance of causality in any scientific research, I have a whole article on that topic. I can't force you to read it, but at least keep in mind the importance of carefully determining the true causes and the true effects. See: Error: "Soft-Boiled Eggs Are Better Than Hard-Boiled Eggs"

5.7) There isn't anything blameworthy in the teachings of Jesus. Of course, you'll need to "dig out" your Bible! (Buried in some cardboard box in your garage, maybe?) You can see an overview of the teachings of Jesus here: Dear Schoolchildren, Here Is Your Homework For Next Week!

5.8) There isn't anything blameworthy in the official teachings of the Catholic Church. Of course, here too, you'll need to "dig out" your essential Catechism of the Catholic Church (Also available for free on the Vatican web site).

Since you've read this far, you accept statement #5.1 here above. Therefore you don't want to slander the official teachings of the Catholic Church (or anybody else's, while we're at it), because you love truth and justice. So you'll have to admit that, at least officially, these teachings are good (or you'll have to supply a paragraph number between 1 and 2865).

Here are a few paragraph numbers concerning money:

544: Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst and privation. Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.

852: so the Church, urged on by the Spirit of Christ, must walk the road Christ himself walked, a way of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice even to death, a death from which he emerged victorious by his resurrection. So it is that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.

2545: All Christ's faithful are to direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty.

Etc., etc... Anyway, I find these 2865 paragraphs beyond reproach in general, and beyond reproach in particular concerning money.

5.9) The Catholic Church produces saints, and these people have material lifestyles that go from very modest, to very poor. Once again by statement #5.1 here above, we can go consult the list of people the Church has canonized, and then go see if these people had 93 Rolls-Royces, or if they lived according to paragraph #2545 of the CCC quoted in #5.8 here above.

Such fruits, such a tree.

5.10) "How can we accept the behaviors of the Catholic Church [...]"? First, those are not the behaviors of the Catholic Church. The expression "behaviors of the Catholic Church" is at least ambiguous, and at worst slanderous. We've established that by #5.4 to #5.8 here above. These behaviors are, strictly speaking, the behaviors of the clergy.

5.11) "How can we accept the behaviors of the Catholic Church [...]"? Second, God Himself doesn't accept them [Lk 17:1-2], why should we? There is no reason to accept the sins of certain members of the clergy. The Catholic Church teaches that Popes, Bishops and Priests can go to Hell just like anyone else. There have been, there are, and there will be, from now until the end of the world, members of the clergy who will cause scandal by their wealth. God Himself says that religious leaders can get drunk and roll around in their wealth in this life, but they will pay dearly for their misbehaviors in Hell [Mt 24:48-51]. As the Catholic Church teaches, we can say the sins of these members of the clergy "conceal rather than [...] reveal the true nature of God and of religion".

In summary, the scandalous behaviors of some members of the Catholic clergy have no influence on the value of the Church's message, and these perverse Bishops and Priests deserve to be punished with the full force of justice, both human and divine.

6) Category 2.2: worshipping, in theory

6.1) We're therefore left with a single category of wealth to deal with: #2.2, i.e. all material objects used for worshipping. We'll first examine this in theory, then in the following section, we'll examine this more practically.

One of the first observations we should make is that if God really exists, and if He founds a religion and orders us to worship Him in a way which corresponds to our nature (which is a mixture of spirit and matter), then He kind of has the right to do so! All the gold, silver, linen, precious stones and other riches are created by His hand [Ps 94:3-5], and He is the one who fills artists with skill [Ex 28:3]. So the Ultimate Owner of all this stuff wants some of it back, and we would tell Him to go take a hike? What kind of servant tells his Master what to do with His wealth? A servant who wants these riches for himself! [Jn 12:3-6]

A second observation we can make is that the worshipping service ordered by the Church costs almost nothing. A sociologist who would study the ceremonial costs of each religion would see that some religious rites are very expensive! For example, if we look at the Jewish worshipping services in the Old Testament, they needed to sacrifice bulls, sheep, and all kinds of other animals, and every day! Imagine the cost! In comparaison, the Catholic Church just needs a small bottle of wine and a few pieces of bread, a bit of olive oil and water, and that's about it. (Of course, in the Province of Quebec these days, we have the shameful waste of the Prions en Église missalettes we throw away after each Mass, but Pope Elvis 1 will fix that!)

6.2) If the Church orders such an inexpensive worshipping service, why then such sumptuous religious buildings, with so many costly ornaments? It's because the Church orders an inexpensive worshipping service, but She strongly recommends to adorn temples with art. And why recommend fine arts? For roughly two reasons. First, because of the very mission of the Catholic Church, which is to lead as many men as possible into Heaven. Secondly, because of the very nature of these men which must be saved. Indeed, man has a partly material and partly spiritual nature. Moreover, man arrives at the knowledge of spiritual things through material things.

Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.
[Letter of Pope John Paul II to artists, #6]

The "beautiful" was thus wedded to the "true", so that through art too souls might be lifted up from the world of the senses to the eternal.
[Letter of Pope John Paul II to artists, #7]

This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration!
[Letter of Pope John Paul II to artists, #11]

In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.
[Letter of Pope John Paul II to artists, #12]

7) Category 2.2: worshipping in practice

Speaking of fine arts, we can say that theory is often beautiful, but when it gets down to practice, it can become very ugly! Let's examine a few practical aspects of that beautiful theory, concerning the edifying of souls through fine arts.

7.1) Ugliness isn't beautiful. At some point of time, for sacred art to be able to edify souls, it needs to be really art, and really sacred. The Church knows this well:

For this reason bishops [...] should [...] with the same religious care, remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art.
[CCC, #2503]

Unfortunately, nothing prevents a Province full of corrupt Bishops from destroying this beauty. For example, they can replace the treasures of Gregorian chant with bland ditties, encourage the selling or stripping of the most beautiful churches, and encourage the construction of modern ugly churches, destroy the liturgy, prevent prayer by destroying sacred silence in the temples, etc.

7.2) Beauty disposes us to accept an assertion, but that assertion has to be true! Fine arts are a bit like the sugar coating on a pill. If the pill is poisoned, fine arts will only make it more toxic. We've all seen one day or another a very beautiful ad on TV or in a magazine, an ad which was really artistic, while promoting a bad product. In the case of the "Catholic Pill", we can prove it's very good (see #5.8 here above). On the other hand, if the official message of the Church is corrupted by heresies, fine arts can unfortunately contribute to the transmission of this spiritual poison.

7.3) A budget for sacred art can be badly spent. Here again, in practice, we need banknotes to pay for materials and for the artists who produce sacred art. Unfortunately, nothing prevents this budget from being badly managed. Apart from the cases here above of 7.2 (false art) and 7.3 (false message beautified by true art), a Bishop can spend too much, or too little on art. If a village is dying of thirst, it's idiotic to spend millions to embellish a Parish church, and run out of money when comes time to investing a few thousands to dig a well! (When God orders a population to spend money on religious art, He doesn't break the budget: [Ex 36:6-7]). Inversely, when a population can afford colossal sports stadiums, sumptuous shopping malls, luxurious cars, etc., and that it can't even pay for a little religious temple, there's a problem too!

In the case of the Province of Quebec, have we spent too much to adorn our temples? I'd like to be a sociologist, and to have done a thorough study on the material wealth of the Catholic Church in Quebec. I'd like to compare the amount of money Quebecers gave to beautify their churches, before and now. Then, I'd like to compare that with the number of Quebecers who go into exile in Africa, in order to care for the bodies and souls of Africans, for free. That too, before and now. It appears to me to be inversely proportional. That would be easy to explain. The more sacred art brings us closer to God, the more this love of God encourages us to love our poor brothers.

7.4) A work of art can be badly conserved. As any competent museum director can tell you, having a beautiful work of art isn't enough. People need to have access to it! You don't need an earthquake or a fire to lose a treasure for mankind. It can also just be purchased by private and selfish hands. Especially if that work of art was paid for by donors who had explicitely said that this artwork was not to be sold, but to be conserved for ever, so that all could benefit!

Obviously, it's not the case for the Catholic Church. If you go to the Vatican, you can see that the artworks are registered in the accounting books as having a symbolic value of one euro. They don't have any market value, since they cannot be sold. They are entrusted to the Church, but they belong to all mankind.

Actually, if we did the math, we could probably show that the biggest network of "museums" in the world are the Catholic churches. And you can go edify your soul, almost anytime, absolutely for free.

8) Conclusion

Is the Catholic Church scandalously rich, materially? Unfortunately, some of Her perverse members are (including even some Bishops and some Priests). On the other hand, the Church as such is not scandalously rich. On the contrary, it's mostly the imagination of Her slanderers which is scandalously rich!

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