Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, April 08, 2005

Papal Poverty?

I've been amused lately by all the reports about the Pope's poverty. The man who lived in a palace, flew in a private jet, rode in bullet proof cars and died in a private, fully equipped hospital room in his palace attended by the best doctors in Europe, claimed to have no possesions in his will. He is being burried in a "simple cyprus coffin."

The Catholic Church is among the wealthiest organizations on the planet. The Church collects and spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year! And the decisions about how all that money is collected and spent are based on the principle that the Pope is the divinely appointed, infalliable monarch of the entire Church - so the Pope is the controller of all that wealth. The one limit to the Pope's control of all that wealth is that when he dies his will can't specify who inherits it.

What do you think are the political implications of this? The Church spends millions defending and relocating criminal priests. The Church interfers in the politics of many countries - either by giving moral legitimacy to dictators (as in Central and South America for decades), or by threatening to excomunicate progressive politicians. Is the Chruch poor? Does it matter if we think it is or isn't? If the Church is wealthy and presents an image of poverty (as in the case of the recent pronouncements about the late Pope), what should we think of its motives?


Dr. Strangelove said...

The myth of poverty of the Catholic CEO underscores the contradictions inherent in a corporate Christian church.

US West said...

OK, I tried to post this Friday. But I couldn't get on and I have been out of town ever since. I hope people will still bother to read a stale post.

What are you two on about? What do you mean there is this myth about Church poverty? There is no myth. We all know the Church is wealthy. I don’t think anyone is putting on a show of poverty. The Pope was "poor" because he had no need to own anything. He probably stipulated how he wanted to be buried to a certain degree. He probably chose the wooden coffin.

Look, in my Dioceses, we had Cardinal Mahoney (then Bishop Mahoney) in charge. He
had his golden staff and fancy vestments and golden chalice (Much like a lawyer has his own law books or a doctor has his own medical tools). Many of these
things are given to these guys as gifts by family, friends, or parishes. Sometimes they buy these things themselves (like vestments etc. sort of like soldiers have to pay for their uniforms.). They are the tools of the trade. When Mahoney moved on,
we got a new bishop. This guy had a wooden staff, simple vestments, and a silver chalice. That was his preference. It didn’t make him a better bishop, but it was symbolic of his type of approach and personality.

Like any leader, the Pope is supported by the community (i.e. the Catholics around the word). In fact, when we speak of the "The Church" we are referring to just that,the community. The Pope is merely the guardian of the finances, or the trustee of Church funds and he doesn't control all of it by any means. Nor does he own any of it any more than the president of the U.S. owns the White House (thank god!) And he has a Council of Cardinals and Bishops that he has to consult with, like any leader.
Every level of governance from the local parish to the Dioceses to the Archdioceses has some control over some portion of the finances. It isn't much different from our own governmental system. In that regrad, then, Dr. Strangelove's analogy to the CEO Pope is probably quite correct.
So I don't see any contradiction. The Church has huge overhead, but great assets (does that sound funny?).Jus think of the real-estate and the art alone! Like any government, the Church takes a tax from its parishes around the world. Its missionaries seek donations for specific causes. And sometimes parishes and missions get subsidy from the Vatican
coffers. But the wealth that the Vatican holds is well known.

Now if you want to get into how it spends its money, then that is another story.

Raised By Republicans said...

I read it!

I think the big problem is twofold. First, the Church has enormous wealth and spends most of that wealth on itself (either through palaces and cathedrals filled with decorative art or in costly cover ups of scandals etc). It claims to be a source of enormous source of charity and aid but this aid is both overwhelmed by its own institutional selfinduldgence and tied to ideological/theological demands (no family planning, partial or complete de facto clesiastic immunity from civil prosecution etc).

Second, at the same time that the Church spends what it does how it does, it offers propaganda about how John Paul II had no possessions...he was a man of vast wealth by any meaningful definition. They push this image of a Church that is a friend to the poor, a protector of children and the weak etc. But the reality is far from either.

US West said...

And I respectfully disagree that the Pope was wealthy because he controled Church wealth. If he was wealthy, it was purely by proxy. None of it was really his.

Dr. Strangelove said...

There was a great exchange on The Cosby Show many years back in which one of the Huxtable children, having been recently picked on at school for being rich, says he wishes they weren't. Cosby shakes his head and replies, "We're not. You mother and I are rich. YOU have nothing."

What is property? What does it mean to be wealthy? USWest is correct that of the private plane, car, accomodations, etc... none were legally the property of the Pope. But still, he lived richly. The Pope had access to resources, personal luxury, and privileges that few of us will ever have. Yet at the same time, his life was also constrained and given over to service in a way few of us will ever know. So I would not be surprised to learn he had a plasma TV in his living room... but if he did, I'll bet he never had time to watch it. His life would have been hard to measure by conventional yardsticks.

The 4 million pilgrims in Rome are celebrating the warm image of a humble man who devoted his life to charity... and the problem is that this can be hard to reconcile with the cold reality that he was also the absolute ruler of a large and wealthy bureaucracy, who lived amid comfort and riches. The warm image is a Christian ideal; the cold one is not. It's the camel and the eye of the needle; it's one of the reasons why Christ did not accept the offer of Earthly powers; it's a real contradiction inherent in a corporate Christianity.