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In Defense of Nice Churches

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Filed under The Church

Vow of Poverty

At some point in discussions between Catholics and atheists, the Catholic is obliged to defend the flair his Church has for covering everything in gold.

The criticism, veiled as a question, isn’t without foundation. There have been all manners of abuse regarding wealth within the Church, and — if I may prophesy — there will continue to be. No sane man would defend the personal hoarding of wealth, especially not among clergymen. But when the man outside of the Church bemoans the unsold wealth of the Church, he’s not thinking of crooked cardinals or Popes parading as Renaissance princes. He is thinking of the cathedrals and the basilicas, the thrones and tabernacles of gold, the chalices of sliver and the jewel-encrusted robes, the pomp and pageantry of the largest human institution in the world. Hence:
 

 
To summarize the modern axiom: The Catholic Church has gold and refuses to sell it, thus the Church lets the poor starve.

It’s a noble complaint, but the reality is this: The Church’s wealth comes from the poor. What people miss when they speak of “The Catholic Church” — and by it mean a few cardinals, bishops, and a Pope — is that the Catholic Church is made up of every Catholic, rich and poor alike. Thus the upkeep and general wealth of the Church comes from every member of the Church, rich and poor alike, giving to their respective dioceses. As a college student who has put his laughable dollar into the collection plate more than twice, I can attest to this fact.

But most importantly — and this really is my point here — the wealth of the Church exists for the edification and benefit of every Catholic. Cathedrals are not solely for bishops. A throne exists for more than the man sitting on it. It is a certain nasty pride that tells the man suffering from poverty that the Beauty surrounding him — be he a homeless man appreciating the cool of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, or a Haitian saying prayers in the Cathédrale St. Jacques et St. Philippe — that it should all be torn down, sold, and given to him in the form of money. It is an offense to say, “this golden tabernacle you kneel before — it should be melted for bread.” The poor man in this position would do well to tell his well-intentioned but misguided friend the truth that “man does not live on bread alone.”

Faulting the Cathedrals and Basilicas of the world for containing “too much” wealth is an awkward denial of the fact that the cathedrals and basilicas of the world are explicitly for the use of the poor, and to steal from them is to steal, not merely from the Church, but from the poor themselves — the poor who, despite the perceptions of Hollywood, do not merely need bread, cash, and contraception, but beauty, ritual, and God as well.

In sum: the visible wealth — the very stuff that sets people complaining — is for the poor.

But surely the cardinals and Popes are rolling in it. Right? I can’t speak for the entire world, but the average salary of an American bishop is $23,ooo per year, about half the average American’s. The average priest’s is $40,000 per year, only $20,000 of which is actually “take home cash”. And if you’re the Pope, not only does your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Popes get one gold, silver, and copper coin for each year of service placed on their coffin. Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars.

We should note that when many people criticize the Church's extravagant architecture and art,  they often invoke Jesus. Let's examine his response to a similar criticism:

“While Jesus was in Bethany, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Here Jesus welcomes and praises the excessive love poured out for him  — what Judas calls "waste." But that's precisely what Catholics continue doing today. Atheists must remember that Catholics believe the words of Christ, that in the Mass he becomes bread for us, transforming mere wheat and wine into his Body and Blood. Thus when we build for him a tabernacle of gold, and chalices of silver, pillars of marble, and windows of fiery glass, we do it not to placate men but to honor God. God does not disdain these treasures any more than he disdained the Wise Men’s gold or the Bethany woman's perfume, for our praise is his gift to us, the spiritually poor, who by it are granted the desire for communion with him.

 
 
Originally posted at BadCatholic. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: ###)

Marc Barnes

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Marc Barnes is an English major at The Franciscan University of Steubenville. He writes at Patheos.com for the Catholic Channel, focusing on bringing Catholicism to secular culture through natural law, humor, and ADD-powered philosophical outbursts. He recently created and released the website 1flesh.org with some friends, a grassroots movement in opposition to artificial contraception, promoting natural methods of family planning. He has also written for Crisis Magazine, LiveAction.org, LifeSiteNews, and his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. He loves blowing things up, and has a man-crush on Soren Kierkegaard. Follow Marc's blog at Bad Catholic.

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  • Steven Dillon

    Let me get this straight...Catholic authorities are justified in using large portions of tithe money for "pomp and pageantry" instead of preventing things like child starvation, because it honors God and edifies Catholics?

    What's a better way to honor God? Building a ridiculously expensive cathedral which most poor people of the world will never enter, or saving thousands of innocent lives?

    • Steven, thanks for the comment, but I don't think you have it straight. First, you present a false dichotomy. The choice isn't either to build nice churches, which are frequented and enjoyed most often by the poor, or help eradicate starvation. The Catholic Church does both of those things better than any group in the world. She feeds, heals, teaches, and serves tens of millions of people everyday. Yet from the Catholic perspective, the problem comes when we exclude one or the other--when we feed souls but neglect bodies, or when we feed bodies but neglect souls.

      Your second question--"what's a better way to honor God?"--was essentially the same question insinuated by Judas in his criticism. And Jesus gave his answer. Judas thought selling perfume and giving the money to the poor (though it was far more likely he wanted to keep the money) would have been better than lavishly "wasting" it on Jesus. Jesus corrected this view, noting how wealth poured out for his sake honors him more than flipping a few coins to the poor.

      • Steven Dillon

        Thanks for the reply Brandon. It is true that Catholic authorities spend tithe money on many different projects. But, the question is which projects they are justified in investing in. So far, I've not seen a good reason to think Catholic authorities are justified in spending tithe money on cathedrals instead of starving children.

        Routing more money to save the needy would not at all involve neglecting the soul for the body.

        Finally, let's assume that this Judas text is reliable, and that Jesus' answer is authoritative. It doesn't seem to be relevant to our discussion. Jesus apparently tells Judas "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." That's why it was okay to give perfume to Jesus and not sell it for the poor: his physical presence with the disciples was temporary.

        • "So far, I've not seen a good reason to think Catholic authorities are justified in spending tithe money on cathedrals instead of starving children."

          Thanks again, Steven. I'm a little unclear what you mean by "tithe money." Perhaps you could explain? In the Catholic Church, the word "tithe" has a very specific meaning--typically "ten percent of a person's income given back to God"--but that hardly exhausts all the money given to the Church. By "tithe money" do you mean "the Catholic Church's total income"?

          Regarding your quote, then, it happens very often--and I know this from experience now working for a beloved Catholic ministry--that donors will stipulate where they want their money to go. So for example, the Archdiocese of New York is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation of St. Patrick Cathedral, the building known as "America's parish church" which welcomes far more poor people than the social elite. Yet almost all the donors specifically request that their money go toward the renovation of the Cathedral. It can't be used in any other way. For the church to then say, "Well, regardless of what you want, we're going to spend it on soup" would be an ungracious reply.

          Right before this, you keenly observe one important question ("the" question in your mind): "which projects [Catholics] are justified in investing in." But that question must assume a set of priorities. For example, by insinuating the Church is not justified in investing in beautiful churches, the critic assumes that beautiful churches are unnecessary. Yet the Catholic Church would disagree. As would Jesus, who said, "Man does not live on bread alone but by every word of God."

          ""The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." That's why it was okay to give perfume to Jesus and not sell it for the poor: his physical presence with the disciples was temporary."

          Ah, I'm so glad you wrote this because I think it reveals a major misunderstanding. Catholics don't believe that Jesus' presence with his disciples was temporary. We know--on Jesus' own testimony--that through the Eucharist, he is still with us today, totally and substantially, wherever the Mass is celebrated. Through the Mass we Catholic commune with him, consuming his Body and Blood, which is precisely why Catholic churches exist: to help people encounter Jesus, body and soul. The entire reason for our lavish parishes, chalices, and tabernacles is because they contain Christ.

          Now, as an atheist, you likely disagree with the Catholic Church's doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus. That's understandable. But do you at least see how, on Catholicism, assuming Jesus is bodily present in every Catholic church, it makes sense to honor him as a king?

          • pete777

            The concept that building ornate cathedrals somehow results in the neglect of those in need, from an economics point of view assumes that economics is a zero sum game - that if you send money to one place it gets deducted from another place - and that is just not the case (as you have pointed out regarding spending "tithe" in one of the earlier posts).

            Our God provides exceedingly and abundantly so that all of these things can be accomplished. Just because a new cathedral is built does not mean a child in a 3rd world country will die of starvation.

          • Steven Dillon

            I don't think anyone is saying when Catholic authorities spend collection plate money on cathedrals, they deduct money from starving children. Rather, what's happening is that Catholic authorities are spending collection plate money on things like cathedrals, when that money could save the lives of starving children.

            Are they justified in doing so? That's the problem.

          • "I don't think anyone is saying when Catholic authorities spend collection plate money on cathedrals, they deduct money from starving children. Rather, what's happening is that Catholic authorities are spending collection plate money on things like cathedrals, when that money could save the lives of starving children."

            Steven, what is the difference between these two scenarios? They sound the same to me (i.e., "Nobody is saying A. Rather, what's happening is A.")

          • Steven Dillon

            The first scenario assumes that a portion of money has already been reserved for starving children. It then gets deducted, and spent elsewhere. In the second scenario, no portion of money has been reserved for starving children. Thus, spending the collection plate money on cathedrals in this scenario does not amount to 'deducting' money reserved for starving children.

          • David Nickol

            Money spent on "nice churches" instead of donated to organizations that feed the starving does not take away anything that the starving already have. It does not cause them to starve. However, if the money were donated to feed the starving instead of being spent on "nice churches", people could live who would otherwise have died.

            As I said elsewhere, there has to be a balance. It is not the case, to my knowledge, that the average Catholic Church or cathedral is overly extravagant. But on the other hand, I don't think anyone would argue that no amount of money spent on a church of a cathedral could be too much.

          • David Oh

            hey dude, you like kids starving and suffering. keeps you in business. you are evil.

          • devhammer

            Your statement contains two incorrect assumptions. One is that Catholic authorities "spend collection plate money on cathedrals". The other is that all money must be spent on the poor, or we're not following Jesus' teaching.

            For the first, as a Catholic member of a parish that just built a beautiful new church, I can tell you from direct experience that the money to build the church did not come from "collection plate money" but rather from a capital campaign in which parishioners choose to give specifically for the purpose of building the church. In our case, building a new church was not optional, as we had significantly outgrown our existing worship space, and could not accommodate the growth without building. The question, then, is not whether to build, but what to build. I, for one, am very glad that we chose to build a building that looks and feels like a church, rather than some utilitarian building that feels more like an elementary school, even if doing so was more costly.

            Architecture matters. Ultimately, the purpose of a church is to save souls, and if you assume that an uplifting and beautiful church is more effective at this, then it makes sense to build something beautiful.

            In terms of your second implied assumption, that we cannot spend money on anything until we have taken care of the poor, this assumption, taken to its logical extension, would require us to refrain from owning any more material goods, food, etc. than we needed to subsist. Certainly, there are religious orders that take vows of poverty to do just that. But I think few would argue that we are all called to do so, and simple economics is sufficient to tell us that if we all did so, the state of the poor would not be notably improved.

            As Brandon observes, the Catholic church is second to none in direct help provided to the poor, medical care given through Catholic hospitals, education via Catholic universities, disaster relief through Catholic charitable organizations, etc.

          • Steven Dillon

            I'm not sure whether your experience of a capital campaign is representative of how Catholic authorities have historically or currently invested in architectural projects, but it is Barnes that states that "the Church's wealth comes from the poor". If this is an incorrect assumption, I'll of course concede, but that's one more response Barnes has to give up.

            As far as my second implied assumption, it's not clear to me how what I've said implies this. I've merely insinuated that collection plate money is better spent saving lives than building fancy churches.

          • devhammer

            As noted elsewhere, the finances of the church are not nearly as centralized as some here seem to think, so I would not presume to say whether my experience is "representative" but that was not my point. My point was that your assertion that churches are built with "collection plate money" is at a minimum, incorrect in my experience.

            "I've merely insinuated that collection plate money is better spent saving lives than building fancy churches."

            But why stop there? If the collection plate money should be earmarked solely for the poor, then why not the money that you or I spend to heat or air condition our homes? Or any of hundreds of other expenses in our daily lives? Once you assert that you know how other people should spend the money that God has entrusted to them, where does it end?

            No one is forced to give to the church. They do so of their own free will, and if they believe that their parish is misusing these funds, they are likewise free to call for an accounting, or to stop giving. Would that we had similar accountability for our tax dollars.

          • Steven Dillon

            Unless you show that no money from collection plates goes toward things like building churches, I'm not really sure what your experience is supposed to show. That sometimes, the Church's wealth does not come from the poor? I'd agree with thar.

            As far as whether our leisurely spent money is better spent on starving kids, it obviously is. Does this mean we're unjustified in spending money on leisure? I bet it does for the most part, yeah.

          • devhammer

            Steven, I don't see how I'm obligated to show anything in particular. I've stated what my experience is, and that it is in contradiction to the broad assertion you made regarding "church authorities" spending "collection plate money" to build churches. You are certainly entitled to your own opinion, but you'll forgive me for saying it appears to be rather unencumbered by actual experience.

            Regarding your second point, why just starving kids? Why not cancer research, or orphanages, or any of hundreds or thousands of other causes of human suffering? If we are not to spend any resources on anything other than alleviating human suffering, we will ultimately do nothing else but attempt to alleviate suffering, and I believe that as long as we are here on earth, we will ultimately fail, because suffering is as much a part of the human condition as is joy.

            Attempts to create heaven on earth have given rise to more suffering than most of us are willing to acknowledge. (see, for example, Joshua Muravchik's Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism). For myself, I pray that God will guide me in being a good steward of the resources he has entrusted to me, and try to avoid judging whether others are doing his will with the resources given to them.

          • Steven Dillon

            You've construed my claim as about what Catholic authorities do in general, and I yours about what Catholic authorities don't generally do. I think we may have been talking passed each other.

            I've been defending an argument Peter Singer infamously gave, and you've been giving some of the tried responses to it. Whether or not it's morally permissible for us to prioritize our leisure over things like child starvation is a thorny topic I wouldn't expect to have solved here.

          • devhammer

            Indeed, not likely to solve any thorny issue through comments on a blog post.

            I am, however, at a loss for why anyone concerned with moral behavior would cite or defend arguments by Peter Singer. If (and I'm not making assumptions here, just saying "if") Singer is your moral compass, then I'm not sure there's much I could say that would satisfy your stated concerns.

          • David Nickol

            Just because a new cathedral is built does not mean a child in a 3rd world country will die of starvation.

            This is, in my opinion, less that completely true. It is simply not true that "Our God provides exceedingly and abundantly so that all of these things can be accomplished." If that were the case, millions of children per year would not die of starvation or hunger-related issues, but they do. I would not want to draw up mathematical equations, but it is certainly the case that more money spent on providing food, shelter, and medical care for the poor will save lives. Money spent to build "nice churches" that could have been spent on food, shelter, and medical care for the poor does not "cause" them to die, but it does not prevent deaths that are preventable.

            While I don't begrudge any religion its "nice churches" (synagogues, mosques, etc.), there is a difficult question that I have wondered about for decades, which is, "How can I (or anyone) justify having more than enough when others have less than enough?" There is no shortage of people in need, and there is no shortage of organizations who could help them, and until those organizations have all the funding they can use, money spent on non-necessities instead of being donated to charities is money that could have saved lives.

            I am not sure Christianity takes seriously enough the "call to perfection' (Matthew 19:21). Of course, it would no doubt mean the end of Christianity if every Christian sold everything he or she had and gave it to the poor. Few in the history of Christianity have embraced that kind of poverty. But exactly where is the proper balance? A gold chalice is one thing, a gold monstrance is another, but a gold altar would be another thing altogether. I don't think anyone would argue that "nothing is too good for Jesus." But the question of balance is one that Marc Barnes (and, I think, the Catholic Church) fails to answer. Maybe it is unanswerable. But surely it can be argued that some in the Catholic Church (and this includes bishops with "mansions") are living well at the expense of the poor.

          • David Oh

            Your argument is laughable.

          • Steven Dillon

            Marc Barnes claims that the wealth of the Church comes from each of its members, and mentions personally giving money in the collection plate. He doesn't talk about the money given by donars with specific ends in sight. It's his 'collection plate' money that I'm referring to by 'tithe money'. I think that's the important question raised by this article: are Catholic authorities justified in spending 'collection plate' money on ornate buildings, instead of things like starved children?

            It's true that per transubstantiation, Jesus remains really present with us on Earth. But, this doesn't seem to affect the Judas text in dispute. It was originally cited as reason to think spending 'collection plate' money on things like cathedrals instead of on things like starvation is justified. In response, I noted that Jesus doesn't say this: he says the reason it's justified to give perfume to him rather than sell it for the poor is because he will not always be with his disciples. So, the original appeal to the text seems unwarranted, whether or not Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.

          • Medequcb68

            In my parish, when we try to build something, people donate specifically for that project and our parish specifically create a special fund for that purpose and ensures that all donations for the project go to that fund. The finance committee, composed by appointed parishioners, ensures that this happens. By the way, it is a requirement for every parish to have a finance committee wherever that parish is located in the world.

            The tithes are for the upkeep and other ministries of the parish. Parish activities are not limited to having masses but include community building activities.

            As a parishioner, when I give money for the building of the church, for example, I expect that my money should go to how I intended to spend it. This is true to any act of donation. The priest can't rechannel the money for another purpose. If he does, this would be questioned by the finance committee. What I'm trying to say is that there a governance structure within every parish that promotes accountability and transparency.

            When building a church, there are a number of stakeholders and this is not just a decision of the bishop.

            Back to the question of why not sell and give the proceeds to the poor rather than build a grand church, this should be asked to the people making donation rather than to the church heirarchy. Many Judases will say what a waste of money but for me making the donation, I would answer that this is the only thing I could afford and if I have much I will give more for I know that I could never outdo the generosity of my God! It is right and just that that "I" build Him the grandest building I could think of where He could dwell and I to partake and encounter Him in the sacred meal.

            This is not dissimilar to the cited text in the bible about the repentant woman who "wasted" a perfume jar on Jesus. If there are still questions, maybe you need to ask questions to yourselves why you spend your money to watch NFL or soccer when you can make a better world by sharing your money to the poor than make the athletes rich

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi Steve. If God exists, who is infinitely perfect and good and sustains all being, do you think it would be good for us humans to reverence Him?

          • Steven Dillon

            Let me word it like this, to keep myself out of trouble: it would be good to reverence such a being in certain ways. Consider that people can have false or unjustified beliefs about what would be good forms of reverence. To take a more extreme example for illustrative purposes, we'd all agree that it would not be a good form of reverence -- pace some -- to perform a suicide bombing.

          • Andy Thomas

            Ok, thanks Steve. Let me ask another question then: if the doctrine of the Eucharist is true, and it is truly Jesus who sustains us and all those we love, loves us infinitely etc., would it be good/just/right for us to place Him in a simple cardboard box, tucked away in the corner of a dilapidated old church?

          • Steven Dillon

            That depends on whether the benefits of storing the Eucharist in such enclosures outweigh the costs of doing so. Many priests in the Miles Iesus have had to store the Eucharist in manky, 'ol dresser drawers. And by thought experiment, we can easily conceive of such circumstances obtaining on a wider scale. I think the question to ask here is why think the benefits of building elaborate churches with collection plate money outweigh the costs of doing so.

          • Andy Thomas

            Do you think those priests would have been happy about such a situation though? Are you aware that Catholics think that charity is a virtue sustained by God?

          • David Nickol

            . . . . would it be good/just/right for us to place Him in a simple cardboard box

            Ciboriums, tabernacles, chalices, etc. of precious metals are not used to give Jesus a comfortable place to stay. It does not matter to Jesus whether consecrated hosts are stored in simple cardboard boxes or gold boxes studded with diamonds and emeralds. All of the gold and silver and jewels is not for Jesus. It is a way for the people a particular church to show reverence. It is not for me to speak for Jesus, obviously, but in order to put it very simply I would nevertheless say Jesus doesn't care how reverence is shown, just so it is shown. There are some standards:

            Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. The Bishops’ Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognitio by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate.

            However, it a church wants to use materials that are "truly noble" but economical so that the money can be spent on the poor, it is no insult to Jesus. And a church that spends extravagantly on its building, vestments, and sacred vessels while neglecting to take care of people in need is not paying attention to the Gospels.

            Question: Has anyone criticized the Catholic Church for having "nice churches"? I know there are crazy people who claim to think the Vatican should sell its priceless art and give the money away, but that is just so silly as to be ignored.

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi David, where did I say that a nice tabernacle is needed to make Jesus comfortable? The only reason Jesus would want us to show reverence is because it is good for us to do so. Here is my point then: charity is a virtue, which Catholics believe sustained by grace and therefore amplified by holiness. If we lack reverence we will most likely lack holiness, which would therefore result in a reduction of charitable giving to poor

          • David Nickol

            where did I say that a nice tabernacle is needed to make Jesus comfortable?

            Apologies if I misunderstood the implications of what you were saying. I interpreted your question—"[W]ould it be good/just/right for us to place Him in a simple cardboard box . . . ?"—to imply that Jesus would "mind" being in a cardboard box. Although the Catholic Church maintains that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist, my point was that he is not present in such a way that a cardboard box rather than a gold tabernacle would make a difference, or that he would be uncomfortably cold if the thermostat in the church were set at 65°F overnight.

            Some years ago there was some ugly talk from a prominent atheist about wanting to desecrate (or perhaps having desecrated) a consecrated host. Mark Shea (and others I am sure) noted that you can't harm Jesus. Reprehensible as such an act would be, Jesus can't be harmed.

          • Andy Thomas

            Thanks David, I agree

          • David Oh

            yeah right like the truly poor visit New York City regularly. Wake up because you will have to answer to God one day and your arguments are laughable. .

        • bbrown

          It's the duty of the Church to honour God through beauty. The art, architecture, music, literature, worship, and liturgy should be the best we can offer. These offerings can point to that which is greater: the good, the true, and the beautiful, and reflect the great dignity and mystery of God and of the imago dei.
          It's not necessarily 'either or', but should be 'both and'.

          • David Nickol

            The art, architecture, music, literature, worship, and liturgy should be the best we can offer.

            A silver vessel could always be surpassed by a gold vessel, a gold vessel by a platinum vessel, and a platinum vessel by a jewel-encrusted platinum vessel. Whatever architect one can find to design a church, it would be possible (almost always) to find a more celebrated architect who would take a higher fee to plan a more expensive and spectacular church building. As I said above, it just won't do to say, "Nothing is too good or too expensive for Jesus." He was, after all, born in a stable. He did advising selling everything you had and giving it to the poor. He did say it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And our current pope too the name Francis in honor of Francis of Assisi, who was so committed to poverty the Church disapproved.

            I don't think the Christian ideal of poverty means minimizing personal wealth and maximizing the amount of money spent on churches, vestments, chalices, monstrances, and so on.

          • Michael Murray

            But at this moment in time it's definitely not both. If you were make Pope tomorrow how would you resolve this ?

    • ForPeteSaiche

      So everything that is an apparent vanity, which creates jobs should not exist in your book? If Catholics all lived
      like aborigines would that solve the world's hunger problems? A fraction
      yes, but what then of the economics of jobs created and sustained by
      Catholics? Look
      at a list ALL Catholic Charitable mission organizations in the world
      and then look at their managerial budget sheets. Granted priests have a spectrum of room and board provisions,
      but many of them give a large portion of their meager salaries to the
      poor and missions. It balances out. From a business perspective, the men
      & women of the Church manage far greater amounts of liquid wealth
      (than that which is static material wealth), to support the greatest charitable
      enterprise in the world. Consider, "if you’re the Pope, not only does
      your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Popes get one
      gold, silver, and copper coin for each year of service placed on their
      coffin. Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars." All a pittance, compared to the massive quantities of wealth 'redistributed' from the
      coffers to the many missions. Avowed religious servants continually self sacrifice, for love of others in their 'extended family', better than most humans could. We Catholics are happy to help those who embrace poverty, even with their own sacrifices and vows, to do that. Jesus said "you will always have the poor" so we do what we can knowing it will never be enough, as long as evil pervade, before kingdom come. We also know that the problems with injustice lye to varying degrees in all. Humanity stands guilty and ultimately in need of the spiritual Savior.

      • David Nickol

        I certainly don't begrudge the popes' their "lifestyle" (Pius XII might be an exception, but I digress). However, it's nonsense to imply that a pope's salary has anything to do with the way he lives. Popes do not live in poverty (at least not the way poor people live in poverty). If I could live like the pope (free "room and board," secretaries, butlers, chauffeurs, etc., etc.) I would be happy to do without a salary.

        When I was in high school, I expressed an interest in becoming a Christian Brother, and I got an inside look at how they lived. Christian Brothers, like most religious, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. On the one hand, in the cloister attached to the school, they each had a room that was very small and very spare, and they had few personal possessions. On the other hand, they ate extremely well, the community had very nice cars, and "benefactors" (as they called them) provided them with things like tickets to major sporting and cultural events. Although they had taken a vow of poverty, and although in a number of ways they did live in a kind of personal poverty, having little they could call their own, they did not live like poor people at all!

        On the other hand, my father, who was not Catholic, was invited to go on a retreat at the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemani, Kentucky (where Thomas Merton had been), and his recounting of how the monks lived, along with information in some brochures he brought home, made it clear that the monks lived a very austere life—very plain food and not a lot of it, no heat in their rooms, strict discipline, hard work, silence most of the time, and so on.

  • David Nickol

    From Wikipedia:

    Cardinal Bergoglio [the future Pope Francis] became known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle contributed to his reputation for humility. He lived in a small apartment, rather than in the elegant bishop's residence in the suburb of Olivos. He took public transportation and cooked his own meals.

    • And for that we praise him. Pope Francis is a model of the humble, simple life.

      Yet we should remember that the simple saint also celebrated Mass for years in the wondrous Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral--and now in St. Peter's Basilica.

      He strikes the right balance between personal simplicity and extravagant worship of God.

      • David Nickol

        He strikes the right balance between personal simplicity and extravagant worship of God.

        First, I would say that in a very real sense, the wealth of the Vatican (St. Peter's Basilica and the like) belongs to the world, and it would be foolish to sell it and give away the money. However, citing the salary of the bishops and popes tells us very little. Bishops generally live in buildings quite appropriately called "mansions." Popes and bishops (like presidents of countries and royal families in countries that still have kings and queens) don't live on their "salaries."

        As an aside, I don't consider myself prudish or overly refined (in fact, quite the opposite, in many respects), but it made me cringe to see this sentence in a Strange Notions post: "And if you’re the Pope, not only does your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead."

    • materetmagistra

      Something to think about - people looking for a wage would have been happy to clean the larger residence, cook for the clergy and/or drive the clergy around. I don't want to diminish the great humility of Pope Francis, but it's not all wrong to have these things, either - especially when employing those who could use the work.

      • David Nickol

        What you describe is known as "trickle-down economics." It is great that rich people buy yachts and diamonds, because that creates jobs in the yacht-building industry and pays the wages of workers in diamond mines.

        • materetmagistra

          Huh? Giving people jobs is now somehow "politically incorrect?" Providing people the means to live a life and support themselves and their families - a fair wage for their work and decent/humane working conditions - is a good thing. Paint it as "trickle-down," but that is the only way it works - the one who owns the business and employs pays the wages, eh? And, if no one buys their products, the business cannot exist.

          I was merely presenting something to think about. Just because Pope Francis chooses to live a certain 'simple lifestyle' in no way condemns the myriad of other ways of living simply and thoughtfully.

        • materetmagistra

          Hiring a housekeeper is not "trickle-down economics."

          • David Nickol

            Hiring a housekeeper is not "trickle-down economics."

            True, in the sense that when economists use the phrase "trickle-down economics" you cannot simply substitute "hiring a housekeeper." But your idea—let the rich spend on their luxuries because it creates jobs—is part of the theory of trickle-down economics, of which Francis has said:

            “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis wrote in the papal statement. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

            “Meanwhile,” he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”

            What you seem to be forgetting is that a bishop, when he hires a housekeeper, is not paying his or her salary with "free money." He's using money collected from the people of the diocese. If he can live more frugally, the people of the diocese get to keep some of their money and spend it as they see fit, and this may create jobs as well.

            I see nothing wrong in a bishop having a housekeeper. But if you search the web, you'll find stories (such as this one) in which residents of dioceses raise serious questions about alleged extravagant spending on "mansions," and of course there was a very recent case in which Pope Francis himself disciplined a bishop for his extravagance. Now, clearly somewhere there are workers who make $20,000 bathtubs, and $34,000 conference tables, so that kind of spending creates jobs. But surely there are better ways.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: " If he can live more frugally, the people of the diocese get to keep some of their money and spend it as they see fit, and this may create jobs as well."

            Huh? People give freely. They are not "taxed."

            And, why can't Bishops and Priests use their income (pretty meager - see other posts) for those things as much as you or I could? Hiring "help" is not something evil. Also, you keep trying to steer this to people who indeed are misusing funds. That's not at all what I am talking about. There is a wide chasm between how Pope Francis chooses to live and those who would indeed take and spend at "extravagant" proportion.

          • David Nickol

            And, why can't Bishops and Priests use their income (pretty meager - see other posts) for those things as much as you or I could?

            I don't think bishops and priests pay for housekeepers out of their own pockets. That would be bizarre.

            Hiring "help" is not something evil.

            And who said it was? You seem to have overlooked it when I said, "I see nothing wrong in a bishop having a housekeeper." And also when I said, "I certainly don't begrudge the popes' their 'lifestyle' . . . ."

            Also, you keep trying to steer this to people who indeed are misusing funds. That's not at all what I am talking about. . . .

            That is what you are talking about when you claim that spending money is justified if it creates jobs. If a bishop needs a housekeeper, and if the pope needs a butler, then that is sufficient justification for hiring them. My point is that it is "trickle-down economics" to justify wealthy people spending money on luxuries by claiming it creates jobs for poor people. (It very well may, but in a world where millions of children starve each year, more of a justification is needed for extravagant spending than "it creates jobs."

            My point, further, is that aside from occasional abuses like the "Bishop of Bling," I don't think the Catholic Church neglects the poor and spends its money extravagantly. However, it can. Not everything a bishop or pope does is automatically right, even if it creates jobs. The job-creation angle is irrelevant here. If a bishop or priest wants to have his mother or sister move in with him and do the work of a housekeeper rather than hiring one, or should he wish to do the work himself like Archbishop Bergolio, should he be criticized for not creating a job? As I said, the job-creation angle is irrelevant.

            From the little I know, bishops are quite well taken care of, but priests do not get enough money, and that is particularly true in terms of planning for (and living in) retirement. Also, should they be defrocked, they get little or nothing, and they aren't particularly well situated to support themselves.

  • Gail Finke

    I was once at a traveling exhibit of artifacts from the Vatican. An extremely well-dressed woman sniffed "so much for the poor," or something similar. I thought it was funny that she was dressed in a designer suit that costs hundreds of dollars and complaining about excess. I wanted to ask her, "Excuse me, but you seem to have spent some money on yourself that could have gone to the poor, please justify to me why you don't wear sweatpants and t-shirts, which are surely all you need, and give the rest of your clothes budget to the poor?" But of course I didn't. Everyone's personal luxuries -- cars, clothes, electronics, home decor, fine dining -- seem perfectly justifiable to him. The Church gets more scrutiny because everyone knows she is supposed to help the poor. And with more hospitals, orphanages, schools, service agencies, and aid to the poor than anyone else in the world (from the biggest cities to the most impoverished areas on the planet), she does, entirely paid for by donations. People also give money for beautiful things to honor God -- which is entirely human and celebratory. People love beautiful things and like to make them and give them and enjoy them. They also love parades and music and pageantry. That doesn't mean they don't also give to the poor. In fact, the more generous people are, the more they give money for all kinds of things. A person who gives a lot to pay for poor children's education and for medical services for the poor is also likely to give money to capital campaigns for buildings and grants for the arts. They are not mutually exclusive in the secular or religious realms.

    • David Nickol

      The Church gets more scrutiny because everyone knows she is supposed to help the poor. And with more hospitals, orphanages, schools, service agencies, and aid to the poor than anyone else in the world (from the biggest cities to the most impoverished areas on the planet), she does, entirely paid for by donations.

      More than half the funding for Catholic Charities USA (which does its work domestically) comes from government grants and contracts. The same is true of Catholic Relief Services (which operates in foreign countries):

      Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, received nearly $350 million more in revenue from the US government and other public funding sources than from private sources during its most recent fiscal year, according to its newly released annual report.

      I say this not as a criticism (although many conservative Catholics are unhappy with it) but merely to point out that much of the good work done by the Catholic Church, both in the United States and overseas, is funded by government.

  • The charity I give to spend 92% of donations on programs. It has the highest rating in efficiency from a number of charity standards groups and it makes its financial statements publicly available. It does not maintain lavish halls and trinkets in Europe for the benefit of of starving refugees in foreign lands who will never see them and have no use for them. If it did I would find another charity.

    If the Catholic Church is doing so much for the poor let us see the books. The Economist and Slate estimated that the US Catholic Church spent 170 billion dollars in 2012, 150 of which was associated with hospitals and institutions of higher learning, 11billion going to "ordinary parishes". 3 billion went to defending priests in sex abuse litigation. Of this remaining 6 billion how much is going to the poor? The GDP of Kenya hovers around 40 billion a year.

    I do not know if these figures are accurate. I do not see why the Church does not tell us how much it spends keeping up its buildings, on religious education, health care, food shelter and clothing for the destitute, litigation, salaries, what it's actual wealth is and where the money is going. Then we can talk about whether they are following Jesus' advice to sell all their possessions and help the poor.

    • Brian, thanks for the comment. I doubt the accuracy of these figures (especially that "3 billion [dollars] went to defending priests in sex abuse litigation"). I'd be interested in the actual sources.

      Yet still, your question reveals a confusion. When it comes to financial reporting, "The Catholic Church" is not a centralized institution. Each diocese is, for the most part, financially independent from the Vatican. Therefore, to attain a clear and detailed picture of how the (global) Church spends its money, you have to check out the financial reports for individual dioceses, hospitals, social services, universities, etc, all of which are freely available online.

      You make it sounds like the Church is intentionally hiding where it spends its income, but that is not my experience. It's pretty well-documented.

      • My source was an economist article dated August 18, 2012. If it is well documented, make the financial statements public. Or at least tell us how much of the money going through the church gets to the poor to provide necessities of life. Or just give us the numbers for one corporate entity.

        • "Or just give us the numbers for one corporate entity."

          But the Catholic Church doesn't operate as "one corporate entity." As explained above, you may be confused as to how the Church operates on a financial level. It's not nearly as centralized as you seem to think.

          • cminca

            Brandon-in 2007 (then) Archbishop Dolan sought and was granted permission to move $57M to a cemetery trust. The letter stated: “By transferring these assets to the Trust, they will be protected by any legal claim and liability.”

            If each diocese is independent--why would the Archbishop be asking for, and being granted, permission for a LOCAL financial transaction? Why would the Archbishop be explaining motive?

            Sorry--It doesn't pass the smell test.

          • Sought and was granted permission by who? Please explain.

          • cminca

            From a NYT article:
            "Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

            Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

            However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show."

            I don't know who he wrote to, but if the letter outlined a position and requested permission, then it would indicate that the local parish's finances were under the direction of the Vatican.

          • I'm afraid there are simply too many vagaries here for either of us to draw relevant conclusions. Perhaps you have another example?

          • John Cocktosen

            No, the conclusion is clear. In order for the archdiocese to make a local financial transaction, they needed approval from the Vatican.

          • David Nickol

            Rather, in order for the archdiocese to make that particular transaction, it apparently needed approval from Rome. That does not in any way mean that Rome monitors the way bishops handle the financing in their dioceses. There are well over 2,000 dioceses in the world, and bishops are answerable only to the pope. If the Vatican micromanaged the spending of bishops, there would have been no justification for Pope Francis to suspend the "Bishop of Bling." To the best of my knowledge, bishops have almost total autonomy in running their dioceses.

          • cminca

            Except the "Bishop of Bling" was doing the spending under Francis' predecessors. They may not have cared.
            He was only under Francis for 7 months.

          • David Nickol

            I am quite confident that Benedict XVI did not approve $20,000 for a bathtub. I don't think it is a matter of not caring. I think it is that bishops are quite autonomous and they do not report diocesan finances to the Vatican in significant detail. And of course if you are someone like the "Bishop of Bling," whatever reporting you are required to do, you probably do "creatively. One is much, much more likely to hear of bishops (in the United States, at least) closing parishes and schools for lack of sufficient funds to run them rather than making extravagant expenditures.

            Having said that, who can look at the second photo above (the pope next to the emaciated children) and not be just a little uncomfortable with the display of wealth by Rome? It would be ridiculous even to suggest liquidating the Vatican's assets. The Sistine Chapel isn't just a building that ought to be owned by the highest bidder. But I don't think it is wrong to ask again and again whether the right balance is being struck.

            Certainly we would not sell the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the land from the Gettysburg Battlefield to help pay off the national debt. They aren't just structures. They're history.

          • cminca

            John--

            Correct.

            And I'm afraid there is another clear conclusion. That since Brandon's professional association with Fr. Barron the moderating on this site has taken a decidedly conservative and less balanced turn.

            Oh well, more time for other pursuits.....

          • David Nickol

            John Cocktosen: No, theconclusion is clear. In order for the archdiocese to make a local financial transaction, they needed approval from the Vatican.
            cminca: Correct.

            This is totally unwarranted. I am rather amazed that either of you would leap to this conclusion.

            The fact that one bishop requested and received permission for one transaction does not in any way prove: "In order for the archdiocese to make a local financial transaction, they needed approval from the Vatican."

            If there has ever been a better (or worse!) example of hasty generalization on Strange Notions, I can't think of it.

    • Lionel Nunez

      It's a good thing that we're talking about a religious institution and not a charity then. Otherwise financial accountability in respect to how much is and isn't spent on charity would be expected.

    • Linda

      Every parish I have ever been a member of publishes its financial statement every year, and usually provides a monthly if not weekly breakdown of the donations collected versus the bills owed. The parishioners serve on the finance committees and anyone can know where the money goes. We have second collections for many of the Catholic charities, institutions, retirement funds and schools.

  • Tiff

    Another important aspect of "nice" churches; it's hard to forget why you're there. Even if I'm in another country and can't understand the homily because I don't know the local language, I can sit in a beautiful church and focus on God and remember that is exactly why I'm there for Mass. It seems much easier to lose your focus on God in a plain building with very few visual reminders of who we are there for.

  • ladycygnus

    "But most importantly — and this really is my point here — the wealth of the Church exists for the edification and benefit of every Catholic."

    Like the Smithsonian - it would be close to lunacy to declare that the US Gov should close down all the museums and invest that money into social programs because the museums are a social program of sorts. They provide beauty and education in art, history, nature, and technology to all who enter, even the poor in SOME of the buildings (some require entrance fees). Are there complaints that those buildings are too opulent and all that money should be spent on food stamps?

    It's even worse because the Smithsonian was built with tax dollars and so few individuals saw it as their personal project. With the church, individuals scrape together their coins to jointly build a beautiful altar and they give priceless paintings, statues and "trinkets" inherited from some grandmother to the church,
    because they hope those items will be preserved for future generations
    to enjoy. And then some modern Judas comes in and destroys the marble
    altar, melts down the gold and puts up concrete walls - and people are left with little more beauty than you get in a cubical.

    And, the church is doing far more than merely educating or providing beauty to ALL who enter (poor or rich alike enter through the same door and participate in the same liturgy). They are providing a connection to God, the source of all beauty, goodness and reason, and they do this free of charge (whether you believe this or not, this is what the people who made these buildings believe). You are free to donate some of your money to add a little more to the beauty, or pass the basket and walk out.

    • My problem with supporting any religiously affiliated charity is that I don't know how much money is going to the intended recipients, as opposed to preaching the gospel, religious education I may disagree with, health care that I may disagree with, paying out damages to sex abuse victims. Why would I when there are organization where the only function is to provide those at most needs with the basic necessities of life and will leave the persons religion up to themselves?

      I'd just like the church to tell us where the money is going. It is an enormous organization, larger in the US than General Motors, and yes it is very complicated in its organization and it is really hard to tell what it is doing with its money.

      • ladycygnus

        The question of "beautiful churches" is a question of donating money to the church proper - not to an individual charity. The church is not a "religious charity" although religious charities may be affiliated with the church. The church's primary mission is preaching the gospel - so to donate to the Catholic Church is to donate to that mission.

        If we are speaking of religiously affiliated charities they run the gambit of almost all gospel to almost no gospel. That involves an individual study of the charity - if they educate people or provide medical care then you will probably disagree with some things taught or feel some "medical care" is being left out. I don't know of any religiously affiliated charity that pays for priests lawyer fees, although that would be a good thing to setup - since everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

      • silvermoonkisc

        If you're dealing with a registered charity organization, there are clearninghouse websites that breakdown how your donation will be spent, as well critiques based on all kinds of metrics.

        The Vatican is not treated as a charity. Technically, it's a government. However, I, too, think there needs to be more transparency re income/expenditures. I think this Pope thinks so, too.

      • "My problem with supporting any religiously affiliated charity is that I don't know how much money is going to the intended recipients, as opposed to preaching the gospel, religious education I may disagree with, health care that I may disagree with, paying out damages to sex abuse victims."

        As I hinted at elsewhere in this thread, Mike, that information is freely and easily available to anyone who does a quick Google search. For example, you can pull up last year's financial report for your local parish, diocese, Catholic Charities, or Catholic Relief Services agency.

        • Brandon, your pretty much tuned into this, what proportion of the money raised by Catholics would you say goes directly to the poor vs running hospitals, schools, keeping up churches etc? Your own church or parish or whatever segment would be relevant. I honestly have no idea, I hear Catholics say they are doing so much, I hear anti Catholics say most of it is funnelled for religious purposes rather than straight out feeding, clothing etc.

          It's honestly not really an issue, but I'd be interesting in your understanding.

          • It's a tricky question without a simple answer. But here are some observations:

            - *Most* money that Catholics tithe to their local parish supports the *work* of that local parish--its ministries, facilities, insurance, salaries, grounds, etc. However, most parishes then send roughly 10-20% to outside organizations.

            - When many parishes (mine included) encourage parishioners to tithe 10% of their income, that includes half (5%) to the parish and half (5%) to charitable groups beyond the parish.

            - Many Catholics (my family included) make sizable donations to large Catholic charitable groups like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services in addition to what's collected on Sundays.

            - Thousands of priests and consecrated religious (nuns, brothers, etc.) devote their entire lives to teaching in schools, serving the poor, or working in hospitals, all for little or no pay. This rarely shows up in any financial report but obviously carries immense worth.

            Hope that helps!

          • Medequcb68

            Brian, the financial management model adopted by the church is highly decentralized. In our parish for example, when the congregation wants to give money to the poor, we channel this through Vincent de Paul society or through Caritas. There are a number of ministries within the church and each ministry is accountable and responsible for the keeping of the books and the financial reporting. There are ministries like Catholic education and hospitals that earn revenue. Others exists entirely from donations. All are required to be financially responsible by putting up governance structure and establish financial controls to ensure funds are spent as intended.

            To know the aggregate spent would mean to consolidate financial statements of dioceses and ministries, most of which operate independently. This is not very difficult to do but definitely requires so much resources. So the management issue on cost vs benefit would come into play.

            David claimed that the government funded catholic activites and this is so because the involved Catholic charities were able to demonstrate financial accountabilty. Vatican did not apply for government funding rather it was that specific Catholic entity which is financially independent of Vatican.

            Being an accountant and parishioner, I volunteered my services in the finance committee and in a number of parish projects of the different parishes I attended from the Philippines and here in Australia I never encountered any involvement by the Vatican in any of our building projects. The diocese or the bishops have so much influence on the design and other stuff but the financial responsibilityy of raising and spending funds and reporting the financial activities rests entirely on the parish.

      • materetmagistra

        @Brian Green Adams: "My problem with supporting any religiously affiliated charity is that..."
        Wouldn't the problems you listed apply to ANY charity? As such, it is not "religiously affiliated" charities you are talking about, but ALL charities, eh? Which really is NOT the topic at hand.

        • Fair enough, which is why I take care to donate to one that is very transparent and clear about where the money goes.

          You're right I'm off topic. The church is entitled to do what it wants with its money. I can't say that it appears to be prioritizing helping the poor and I don't much care. I think this is an issue for Catholics to deal with.

          • materetmagistra

            @Brian Green Adams: "I can't say that it appears to be prioritizing helping the poor."

            Of course the mainstream media do not extol the virtues of the Church....and just because you do not see the stories does not mean that the Church is lax on "helping the poor." I'm guessing your conclusion is more a factor of your not really caring to look into the matter. Here's something cut and pasted from a discussion board: ["The Catholic Church...indeed the largest charitable organization on the planet...
            Go to the following forbs article. http://www.forbes.com/lists/2005/14/Revenue_1.html
            If you go down and select all of the Catholic organizations the amount is astounding. Adding up just Catholic Charities, Food for the Poor, Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude's, and America's Second Harvest alone total $5,570,000,000, which is greater than #1 on the list for America. Keep going down the list and you find Father Flanagan's homes, Catholic Medical Mission Board, Covenant House, and more. Add the thousands of other charities, from Missionaries to the Poor, Amigos for Christ, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, to religious orders (like Missionaries of Charity) and thousands upon thousands of individual parishes across the globe who often do their work in anonymity, and you will see some of the charitable works of the Catholic Church." In the Business Week article below, scroll down to “charities”. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/02_15/b3778004.htm ]

          • David Nickol

            It is rather old data you are linking to (2005 for Forbes, 2002 for BusinessWeek, but based on that we have the following:

            • Catholic Charities (61% funded by government)

            • Food for the Poor (not a Catholic organization)

            • Catholic Relief Services (71% funded by government)

            • St. Jude's Research Hospital (not exactly for the poor, but treats regardless of ability to pay)

            • America's Second Harvest (now called Feeding America, not a Catholic organization)

            It would be foolish to deny that the Catholic Church and Catholic-run charitable organizations provide a lot of help to the poor. On the other hand, the Salvation Army, with only 1.5 million members worldwide, is second on the Forbes list for 2013, while Catholic Charities, with about 75 million Catholics in the US alone, is fifth.

            Almost all religions sponsor charitable organizations, and with 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, with Catholicism being by far the largest Christian denomination, and with about 7 billion people on earth, it would be amazing if the Catholic Church did not do a tremendous amount of charitable work.

            I have seen nothing in surveys of charitable giving that indicates that Catholics are more generous than other religious people. There is some evidence that Catholics are less generous than Protestants, but that is disputed.

            Some Catholics like to pat themselves on the back brag about how generous the Catholic Church is, and some Americans like to pat themselves on the back and brag about how generous America is. Of course. Americans think foreign aid is 25% of the federal budget, believing that is too much and should be only 10% percent, when in reality it is only 1%.

          • devhammer

            "On the other hand, the Salvation Army, with only 1.5 million members worldwide, is second on the Forbes list for 2013, while Catholic Charities, with about 75 million Catholics in the US alone, is fifth."

            Not a valid comparison. The Salvation Army does not do its charitable work based solely on donations from its members, and Catholic Charities is not supported by all Catholics, by any means, and undoubtedly receives support from at least some non-Catholics.

            "Some Catholics like to pat themselves on the back brag about how
            generous the Catholic Church is, and some Americans like to pat
            themselves on the back and brag about how generous America is."

            I've never met any of these Catholics or Americans you refer to. But I have met both Catholics and Americans who defend themselves against accusations of stinginess and greed, and are well justified and doing so by the facts.

            As for foreign aid, there is a HUGE difference between foreign aid and charity. Personally, my objection to foreign aid is that it is hideously wasteful, and more often than not ends up with the money sticking to the hands of dictators and despots, rather than helping the poor and suffering. That tends to be the case when you have few if any consequences for such waste, which is the case for those who are responsible for doling out foreign aid. I would happily see every tax dollar of mine that goes to foreign aid given to almost any private or religious charity, in the sure knowledge that it would be better spent.

          • materetmagistra

            First, using old data- it was the first I came upon in a 2-second search. Since this is off-topic to begin with, I'm not going to spend any time looking for more data.

            Second, the above lists do NOT include the charitable work almost every Catholic parish is involved in locally. I did not see my parish listed, and we are involved with a food pantry, neighborhood table, clothing collections and general giving on an individual basis to those who present themselves 'at the door.'

            Third, you say, "It would be foolish to deny that the Catholic Church and Catholic-run charitable organizations provide a lot of help to the poor." Which should be enough to put to rest this particular topic.

          • Medequcb68

            And the "bad" thing about Catholic charities is that they do not ring their bells when they help so that people outside the church are wondering what they are doing.

          • Would you say that the number one purpose of the Catholic Church is to raise resources to bring people out of poverty? That is what I mean by prioritizing it.

          • materetmagistra

            No, I can't say that is the number one purpose of the Catholic Church. Important work, yes, but not the number one purpose of the Church.

  • Loreen Lee

    As Pope Francis has expressed his desire to have 'a poor church', I shall be waiting to see what he might mean by this statement.

  • Sample1

    Many of us who are faith-free have demonstrated time and time again on Strange Notions that while there are secular charitable organizations comprised of free thinkers and humanists, it's usually not smart to ascribe stereotypes to atheists considering we only share a short definition that is essentially comprised by an understanding of the null hypothesis. In other words, saying "the Church has gold and refuses to sell it, thus the Church lets the poor starve" is not an applicable meme for many of us. In fact, I see more Christians of other denominations use that axiom rather than the atheist circles I participate in particularly, Jehovah Witnesses and Baptists.

    For what it's worth, I am somewhat understanding of the treasures of antiquity that are amassed in what is really the last absolute monarchy of Europe: the Vatican. It's not the Vatican's fault that being a pack rat during the classical ages of history resulted in wealth that Antiques Road Show can only salivate over.

    I'm more concerned with how the behaviors and policies of the Vatican affect or attempt to affect non-Catholics in the world. As such, scratch this atheist off the stereotype this article addresses. That said, I am open-minded to reconsider my position should fellow atheists present compelling moral arguments and do plan to keep track of this discussion.

    Mike, faith-free

    • Thanks for the excellent comment, Mike.

      • Sample1

        Thanks. As often as contributors to Strange Notions have said the problem of evil can be a tough topic for the faithful to tackle, the attitude as depicted in this article's wealth/poverty memes is a tough topic for me to tackle.

        I'm not at all well versed on the most compelling arguments that would support such memes but I do look forward to finding out if there are any.

        Mike, faith-free

        PS. I think your reply below where you referenced my name Mike was meant for Brian Green Adams.

  • materetmagistra

    From the meme: "I'm quite sure he could sell that golden throne at a very good price."

    And, to whom will he sell the throne?

    To someone who will allow any vagrant to wander through his home to espy the beautiful throne??
    There are some who will never see gold and finery EXCEPT for what they see in a church.

    • Sample1

      There are some who will never see gold and finery EXCEPT for what they see in a church.

      I think one of the stronger reasons I can sympathize with is that there is nothing wrong with realizing that treasures are a huge tourist draw and that money is a more reliable, long term source of charity-dispersing income than a one time selling of a Raphael painting.

      Mike, faith-free

      • materetmagistra

        @Sample: " treasures are a huge tourist draw "

        Beautiful things also feed the soul.
        Also - there is no admission fee to attend Mass, even if the church is old, beautiful and full of treasure. [And, as far as I know, the Vatican museums are admission-free.] Where else are the poor truly welcome?

  • I'm going to take the opportunity to say some nice things. Though I have never believed in any Gods, Catholic cathedrals are one of my favorite things in the world. They are gorgeous feats of medieval architecture and I cannot get enough of them. I'm glad many of them are maintained so beautifully. I would rather see them being used as museums maintained in the public trust, but I understand that the church feels it is important to keep this and the artwork and livery of its past which is also beautiful. I even accept that yes, money that can be used for the poor is used to maintain and keep these works of history and I'm not going to criticize them for that. I think the new pope is going to move more towards real charity anyway.

    We would cancel much scientific research and environmental protection, art, entertainment and public expenditures if we had to justify each payment against getting a bowl of rice to a starving child. And even though I don't worship the words sell everything and give it all to the poor, I agree with that value probably in the same way as Catholics do. That yes it is a laudable goal but no one really I expects anyone to carry it out. I think the Catholic Church, my government and myself could all be doing much much more to help the poor. I'm not going to cast any more stones on this one.

    • Michael Murray

      And even though I don't worship the words sell everything and give it all to the poor, I agree with that value probably in the same way as Catholics do.

      As a teenager, growing up in an affluent western country, I always thought that most of the other Catholics I saw around me were having a bet each way. It always seemed to me that what God was demanding in Matthew 25:31-46 was a touch more than a small donation each week. But teenagers can be difficult like that.

    • Sample1

      We would cancel much scientific research and environmental protection, art, entertainment and public expenditures if we had to justify each payment against getting a bowl of rice to a starving child.

      I'd like to think so, but I doubt it. There is a disparity of action between poverty/sufffering in our face and poverty at a distance. I blame spooky evolutionary reasons.

      Mike, faith-free

  • Michael Murray

    the poor who, despite the perceptions of Hollywood, do not merely need bread, cash, and contraception, but beauty, ritual, and God as well.

    Surely the point is that if you don't have the "bread, cash and contraception" then beauty, ritual and God are a poor substitute.

    Let's eliminate poverty, stabilise climate change, get the population and use of resources down to sustainable levels, stop driving our fellow creatures into extinction. Let's make the whole world a cathedral. That's a project atheists would sign up with the Church to support.

    • "Let's make the whole world a cathedral. That's a project atheists would sign up with the Church to support."

      If by cathedral you mean "a place to worship God", then I think you'd get a resounding "Amen!" from your Catholic friends ;)

      • Michael Murray

        I guess I was thinking if people want to construct some that glorifies God let's make it the world rather than a building !

  • Michael Murray

    And if you’re the Pope, not only does your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Popes get one gold, silver, and copper coin for each year of service placed on their coffin. Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars.

    Surely everybody knows that you have to look at the total renumeration package. I've heard the pension lasts for all eternity. That's got to be worth a lot.

  • Linda

    I'm wondering: for those who believe in helping the poor and suffering, but not in building beautiful churches, do all your charitable donations go solely to support the poor and the suffering? Or does any of it go to support the arts or anything else that adds beauty to the world as a whole or even to your part in it? The magnificent churches, synagogs, mosques, and other religious spaces that communities have chosen to build provide inspiration, beauty, music, poetry and art that all can share, many for hundreds and hundreds of years, and so for thousands, even millions of people. They are safe harbor and solace for the poor, hungry, and even fugitives at times, and are provided to all with no regard to income, social status or any expectation of being "repaid" in any way. They are gifts we offer up to God, yes, but to each other, too.

    • Michael Murray

      How does the music help if you are starving ?

      Of late my charitable donations have gone to people in need and political lobby groups supporting marriage equality.

      • Linda

        If you are truly starving, you have pretty big problems. And I'll grant that music is not going to satisfy that hunger. But the Catholic church, through it's many charities, can help feed and shelter you, and maybe even get your feet under you so can help yourself.

        That music, though, can help you in other ways, and often is provided, and in my parish in particular, by extremely talented volunteers who put in many hours a week, just to help "feed" a person beyond his or her bodily hunger. If you have ever listened to any form of music that you consider beautiful, uplifting, mood-altering, depressing, angry, melancholy or meditative, you can understand that music is a powerful force, and well worth the investment.

        How does marriage equality help if you are starving?

        • Susan

          If you have ever listened to any form of music that you consider beautiful, uplifting, mood-altering, depressing, angry, melancholy or meditative, you can understand that music is a powerful force, and well worth the investment.

          I'm all for the food and the music. But why all the opulence?

          How does marriage equality help if you are starving?

          I'm not sure I understand that question. Did you mean that as a separate issue or are you comparing marriage equality to music?

          • Linda

            I've deleted the comment about marriage equality. It was in response to Michael Murray, and was meant inquisitively, but I feel like it reads more argumentatively and is obviously a distraction to the topic at hand, really.

            I, too, struggle with the opulence. I think the beauty of the buildings, the music, the art, and all of that flows naturally from people trying to express their awe, wonder, respect, humility, gratitude and praise. It all falls short because it can never perfectly succeed, though of course some of it comes marvelously close. :) I think, and this is purely my opinion, that those beautiful, ornate, wondrous things that can be shared by all, that help guide us all to a deeper connection to that Supreme Being from whom all things springs, that we can all share in, are worth having, though it would seem we probably have enough at this point. But those things that seems to call attention to the person of the office, more than the office itself, are indulgent and distract from Christ's message. I like our current Pope, who as Pope, in exercising his office, uses those trappings that enhance the Mass and whatever other services he conducts, but who, for his personal well-being, eschews that opulence and sticks to simplicity whenever possible. It definitely keeps the focus on his message.

  • Mike

    I've always thought that the church (although they do many charitable things) isn't a charity. It is supposed to be the bride of Christ. As such the Church should teach the faith, worship God and advocate for the most vulnerable in society. Additionally the Church is universal, it is supposed to serve both the rich and poor alike. I can think of many individuals in industrialized countries who although are not in need of the necessities are still in need of spiritual nourishment, and beauty can help draw people to God.

    We should advocate for the vulnerable, the unborn child, the orphan and widow, the poor, those in despair, etc. I think poverty is a difficult problem, and the question should not be "should the church sell everything" but rather would it solve the problem. Poverty is complicated and therefore may not have a simple solution like providing the bare necessities to those in need. Even if we were willing and able, I would think a better solution would be to allow those in poverty to earn their success through work. I often think that giving to those in need alone is insufficient because it deprives those who receive assistance from the dignity of work. To be clear, I am not advocating that those in abundance not help those in need, but rather it should be seen as the first step not the ultimate goal.

    I mean lets assume that the Church sells everything they can and lets say its worth 15 trillion dollars (USD) (for the Church to sell it someone needs to be willing to purchase it) roughly the size of the US government. For the sake of argument lets assume that 1 billion people live in the industrialized world, and the rest of the world lives in relative need, so 5 billion people will receive $3000 each, and they live on $10 a day modest by industrialized standards. So everyone in the world can live for one year with all that the Church possesses. But it doesn't solve the problem. Those in poverty need prosperity, not just wealth. Wealth can come and go but prosperity is more enduring.

    Prosperous countries typically have political stability and the ability to utilize natural resources. I would think that it would be better to teach people valuable skills rather than just give them assistance. Once again, assistance is necessary and good and just in most cases, but I don't think it can be the first and only action.

    I think many here would agree that Catholics aren't living out the social doctrine of the Church as well as we could, and we should do better in this regard. But we shouldn't shrink the Church to a charitable organization, we should be the bride of Christ. Pope Francis said something to this affect during his first homily as Pope, the day after he was elected last year.

    I also think we think of the Church too narrowly, thinking of it as the hierarchy alone, but I think we should see it as the Body of Christ including all its members.

    Sorry for the long rambling post

    • Danny Getchell

      Prosperous countries typically have political stability and the ability
      to utilize natural resources. I would think that it would be better to
      teach people valuable skills rather than just give them assistance.

      Spot on, Mike. The Church (and the rest of the developed world) can do far more to eliminate poverty by encouraging honest government and the rule of law, than it ever could by just continually refilling the rice bowl.

      One problem, though - as cultures become more prosperous and less concerned with day to day survival, there is a trend to desire smaller and smaller families. The Catholic Church in particular is going to have to work its way round that.

      • Mike

        Hi Danny,

        Thanks for the kind words. I just want to reiterate again for the record that I think "refilling the rice bowl" as you put it is an important step for the present, but we can't see that as sufficient in the long term. I might be beating a dead horse, but random posts on the internet can be misinterpreted and misquoted, and I want to have it on the record.

        While I agree that most empirical evidence seems to indicate the desire for smaller families (at least recently) I'm confused why you think this is a problem (I could imagine some reasons for and against but I'm looking for your perspective), and if this is a problem for the universal Church (as expansive as it is) it would impact broader society, i.e. the Church wouldn't be the only one with a dog in the fight.

  • ForPeteSaiche

    To some, everything that is an apparent vanity, which creates jobs should not exist. Franciscans and those who take vows of poverty struggle well with this dichotomy. More extremely, if Catholics all pursued a furthering horizon of leveling the field to that of the poorest aborigines, would that solve the world's hunger problems? For a moment in time, but what then of the economics of jobs created and sustained by Catholics? Lookat a list ALL Catholic Charitable mission organizations in the world and then look at their managerial budget sheets. Those are where are largest % of tithes end up. To feel ensured about this, my family designates through the local church envelopes, Bishops appeals, and directly to a 'top 100 list'. Some of the greatest 'teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime' enterprises are managed under the umbrella of the church's 'poor servants of the poor'. Granted priests have a spectrum of room and board provisions,
    but many of them give a large portion of their meager salaries to the
    poor and missions. It balances out. From a business perspective, the men
    & women of the Church manage far greater amounts of liquid wealth
    (than that which is static material wealth), to support the greatest charitable
    enterprise in the world. Consider, "if you’re the Pope, not only does
    your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Popes get one
    gold, silver, and copper coin for each year of service placed on their
    coffin.
    Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars." All a pittance,
    compared to the massive quantities of wealth 'redistributed' from the
    coffers
    to the many missions. Avowed religious servants continually self
    sacrifice, for love of others in their 'extended family', better than
    most humans could. We Catholics are happy to help those who embrace
    poverty, even with their own sacrifices and vows, to do that. Jesus said
    "you will always have the poor" so we do what we can knowing it will
    never be enough, as long as evils pervade, before kingdom come. We also
    know that the problems with injustice lye to varying degrees in all.
    Humanity stands guilty and ultimately in need of the spiritual Savior.

    • David Nickol

      To some, everything that is an apparent vanity, which creates jobs should not exist.

      I have never met such a person or read anything written by someone who believes this. What I have heard people say, and what I would say myself, is that not everything that creates jobs is good. As I mentioned in another message, the "Bishop of Bling" bought a $20,000 bathtub for his mansion. Undoubtedly there are people who have jobs because other people are willing to pay $20,000 for a bathtub. But that doesn't justify a bishop using money collected from the members of his diocese to buy a $20,000 bathtub!

      Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis have all condemned unregulated, free-market, laissez faire capitalism. The Catholic Church considers it just as much of an evil as communism. There are aspects of Catholic teaching that American conservative Catholics are just as unwilling to put on their cafeteria tray as liberal Catholics are unwilling to accept Church teaching on, say, contraception. The Catholic Church does not consider free-market capitalism to be the solution to all the world's ills. In fact, pretty much the opposite.

      • Mike

        Hi David, Good to converse with you again. I worry this may be too tangential, but I'll let Brandon decide, because I think you raise interesting points.

        I would tend to agree with much of what you said in your first paragraph. I'd also agree with part of what you said in the second. From what I've read (and talks I've listened to) the Church would endorse certain aspects of the market economy, including the profit motive, for example. JPII strongly endorsed some aspects of the market economy. However, I am unaware of any industrialized economy that has no regulations whatsoever.

        The way I've looked at it is as follows: the market economy is the least bad option for determining how to allocate scarce resources. That said, there are market failures that need to be addressed, and that government of various levels has a role to play and simultaneously there is prudential judgement involved in how to alleviate them. I personally don't think there is one solution, and that solutions that work for one society might not work for others. For example the level of government in the US may not be sufficient for say parts of south america, and vice versa.

        I agree with you that especially in America too many conservative Catholics tend to ignore the market failures associated with a free market economy, but that said I think there can be a range of solutions that would not be objected to by the Church that would be acceptable to both those who seek more or less government involvement in the market economy.

        • David Nickol

          Mike, basically everything you say seems right on target to me. The free market works amazingly well, but not so well that it always achieves justice. It is an appropriate role for government to step in and correct injustices resulting from market forces. I have argued with conservative Catholics who claim that wages and prices as determined by free-market forces are by definition just, but this is definitely not what the Church teaches. For example, the Catechism says,

          2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good." Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

          How that plays out in actual practice can be very complex, since obviously an employer may not be able to pay each employee as much as that employee needs. Also, in the United States, an employer who pays two equally experienced and productive employees differently because one of them needs more could be inviting a lawsuit and/or breaking the law. Still, the last sentence strongly indicates to me that a just wage is not always determined by the market, and if an employer is able to pay a higher wage than the market sets, he or she may be obligated to do so, even if that diminishes profits somewhat.

          • Mike

            I also agree with what you have said. Let is not be said that their isn't broad agreement about something discussed on this website, between two people of differing beliefs.

            If I may I'd like to add something more. While market failures occur, and will continue to in a market economy I think society should do its best to remedy them. In some circumstances this would be government. However, I don't think the government should be the sole entity to try to remedy the injustices that the economy produces. Sometimes the government can't remedy it, and a society winds up exchanging a market failure with a government failure. Societies could appeal to private citizens, and charities in addition to the government. I think the argument on market failures should be whether one exists, and then whether government (of a particular level) is best able to remedy it (subsidiarity and solidarity as I understand them).

            Second I think we should also consider consumers in addition to employers and employees. They are not prohibited from paying more than the price to the employee if they feel the price is too low. For example when I get my hair cut I feel that the hairdresser's skill is worth more than they are charging me and I am free to pay an extra couple of dollars.

            Lastly, as you said the way that a market economy plays out in reality is not really tractable. I perceive that the Church advocates for particular principles, but not a particular policy (say what the top tax bracket should be or what the minimum wage should be set at), and I'm always leary of individuals claiming that the Church is in favor of one thing or another. I feel like the Church can advocate for a plethora of acceptable options based on her principles. Also I find many people want the Church to verify their beliefs about socio/economic matters, instead of having the Church form their views, and is dangerous for both ends of the spectrum.

      • Lionel Nunez

        I think she was talking about what is and isn't "extra" in the scheme of a basic necessity. Although don't get me wrong, I think it's phrased poorly too and can't speak as to her true intentions; Just my interpretation of it.

      • Danny Getchell

        But that doesn't justify a bishop using money collected from the members of his diocese to buy a $20,000 bathtub!

        Unless that money was collected under false pretenses, I have no problem with it.

        The United States government has the power to confiscate money from me, under threat of force, and to spend it on things I loathe.

        The Catholic Church has no such power, and if it chooses to ask its members to buy bling-bling for the hierarchy, that's their decision to make.

        • David Nickol

          Unless that money was collected under false pretenses, I have no problem with it.

          Well, you are being more tolerant than the pope, who disciplined the "Bishop of Bling."

          Catholics are obligated to pay taxes:

          2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country:

          Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

          [Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.

          The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."

          Catholics are also obligated to financially support the Church. While they obviously can uses some discretion and can protest abuses, I think it would be considered a very serious matter for a Catholic to simply refuse any financial support to the Church (while continuing to be an active member) because he or she objected to one particular thing.

  • Matthew

    This scripture has been used out of context. Jesus was indeed talking about His physical presence with the disciples and wanted them to understand that He was going to die soon. To use that piece of God's word in a way as to justify the building of these things is disgusting. I understand how you are saying that these places are enjoyed by the poor and benefit them, but it is hard to believe. Please show me anywhere else in the bible where the disciples even considered building anything for the Lord post resurrection. You say that catholics believe the words of Christ but they fail to consider all of His words. If you believe the words of Christ then consider His words to the Pharisees. The Lord desires obedience not sacrifice.

    • Lionel Nunez

      Consider building anything for the Lord post-resurrection? Every time Paul evangelizes a new area unless, of course, you presume they were expected to worship Christ exposed to the elements and the heckling of non-believers as well as in an inferior place; by virtue of not being completely dedicated to him.

      • David Nickol

        Every time Paul evangelizes a new area unless, of course, you presume they were expected to worship Christ exposed to the elements and the heckling of non-believers as well as in an inferior place . . . .

        If you are claiming that the early Christian communities that St. Paul visited or wrote to built churches, you are very much mistaken.

        Christians met in each others' homes almost exclusively until very early in the 4th century, under Constantine. The earliest known church buildings date to the third century. St. Paul had been dead for approximately 150 years by the time the very first Christian churches (i.e., buildings for use as houses of worship) were constructed.

        Someone recently implied the Mass went back 2000 years. That is not correct either. Eucharistic meals (real meals, not just rituals with bread and wine) go back to the earliest Christians, but the Mass as a fixed ritual in a public space developed very slowly, with the communal meal having disappeared by the fourth century.

        • Lionel Nunez

          Yes that's true, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the earliest Christians needed a space set aside for celebration of Mass, and yes I'm using the word mass because even though the form may have changed a weekly Christian celebration centered around Christ would still be called...a mass. Simply because minor details in the ritual form changed doesn't change the substance of what it was and is; a weekly celebration of Christ. And early Christians wanted to celebrate the temple, but the Jews refused to have them, hence their homes serving as a substitute.

          • David Nickol

            Yes that's true, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the earliest Christians needed a space set aside for celebration of Mass . . . .

            You said the following:

            Consider building anything for the Lord post-resurrection? Every time Paul evangelizes a new area unless, of course, you presume they were expected to worship Christ exposed to the elements and the heckling of non-believers as well as in an inferior place; by virtue of not being completely dedicated to him.

            If you meant—as it seems clear to me that you did—that each early Christian community built a church or other public space for Christian worship, you were incorrect. As I said, the very earliest Christian houses of worship were not built until the third century, and it was not until the fourth century that building churches became common.

            Simply because minor details in the ritual form changed doesn't change the substance of what it was and is; a weekly celebration of Christ.

            We are not talking about "minor details." This is from the online Catholic Encyclopedia:

            The origin of the Roman Mass, on the other hand, is a most difficult question, We have here two fixed and certain data: the Liturgy in Greek described by St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165), which is that of the Church of Rome in the second century, and, at the other end of the development, the Liturgy of the first Roman Sacramentaries in Latin, in about the sixth century. The two are very different.

            You said:

            And early Christians wanted to celebrate the temple, but the Jews refused to have them, hence their homes serving as a substitute.

            You seem to be confusing Temple and synagogue, which were two different things in first-century Judaism (although the two words are used pretty much interchangeably nowadays). In the early days of Christianity, there was only one Temple, the one in Jerusalem. The earliest Christians were Jews, and even after the the death and resurrection of Jesus, they continued to meet there (including Peter and John).

            Saturday was the Jewish sabbath, which early Christians observed. The earliest history of eucharistic celebrations is sketchy, but the simplified version of events says Christians met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord's Supper. This was a meal and would not have taken place in the Temple (which was destroyed in 70 A.D., at which point Temple worship ended for the Jews).

            Jewish Christians did become unwelcome in the Temple and in Jewish synagogues, and eventually there was a complete split between Judaism and Christianity. But Christians did not celebrate the Lord's Supper in their homes because they weren't welcome in the Temple or in synagogues. They always celebrated the Lord's Supper in their homes because it was specifically Christian and it was a meal, and neither Jews nor Christians ate meals in the Temple or in synagogues.

  • tz1

    And on the coldest nights of the year, when the homeless are literally freezing to death, the doors are locked. I understand. That jewel-encrusted statue of St. Francis might be stolen or vandalized. Not much different than "Catholic" hospitals that demand my insurance info first.

    Beauty is something worthy of spending but too often protecting it is a direct and immediate cause And I think it is a practical test. You might get a trial and a cross by leaving things unlocked. But is the body and soul of one person more or less important than the blessed bling when it is below zero outside?

    Running a free-admission museum is not the spirit of poverty. "The Sanctuary" should not be an ironic term.

    Perhaps bringing back music would help - the organ is usually in its loft, and an orchestra brings its own instruments.

    • Linda

      Our church started locking its doors when "visitors" started trying to light fires with the candles. However, people in need often stop at the Rectory and are helped that way.

      We are fortunate enough to live in a big enough community so it provides homeless shelters and warming centers. If the church is the only public building in town, then yes, I'd imagine it should be open for the homeless to keep warm. But most communities are big enough to have other facilities available, and those places are much better equipped to take care of the needs of the homeless, and quite often are financed and staffed by people from different churches throughout the area.

  • Danny Getchell

    But when the man outside of the Church bemoans the unsold wealth of the
    Church, he’s not thinking of crooked cardinals or Popes parading as
    Renaissance princes.

    I'd like to see some evidence for this, and will accuse the author of strawmanning in the absence of same.

    My suspicion is that there are many skeptics who admire, nay even love, Chartres Cathedral and the music of Palestrina and Gabrieli, but who reject clergy who personally live lives of luxury (irrespective of whether that luxury is booked as income). Exactly the reverse of the author's thesis.

    • David Nickol

      I'd like to see some evidence for this, and will accuse the author of strawmanning in the absence of same.

      Aren't the two photos that accompany the post evidence?

  • I don't think this is an issue that strikes the Catholic Church with greater force than other rich people and organizations. We all have things that we could sell in order to donate to the poor, and yet most of us do not. There are also noteworthy individuals whose aim was to make plenty of money and donate most of it to the poor, such as R.G. LeTourneau on the Christian side and Peter Singer on the secular side.

    The article by Barnes emphasizes how the beauty of the churches is theoretically available to the distant poor and how the beauty of the churches honors God. The former seems highly dubious but probably could be stated in a more plausible way. The latter is likely to strike some atheists as offensive in that it is foolish to dedicate resources to something we aren't justified in believing exists. But again it could probably be put better, such as by emphasizing that beautiful architecture and artwork serve human values in a way that nearly everyone agrees is important, and that the values of beauty and humanitarian rescue feel incommensurate--we don't have a calculation we can do that shows us how much resources we ought to devote to each. Most people seem to feel that we can aim to do both, although we have different senses of how the balance should go.

    I'll admit, seeing the second photo in Barnes' article, that I feel the balance should shift toward humanitarian rescure.

  • 2005wsoxfan .

    What I could never understand about this argument is that even if the Church sold off all it owns; how far do you think the funds would go? Are you saying if the Church sold off all it's property, gave it to the poor, that would solve the problem of poverty? Besides, there are many forms that poverty takes. I for example am a poor sinner. Spiritually impoverished. However, when I walk into a beautiful cathedral I am spirtually fed by the beauty that I see around me a beauty btw created by hands that God gifted to create beauty. What better place is this gift used then to glorify him and feed his impovershed people with.

    • Michael Murray

      So to elaborate on Matthew:

      King:

      '... I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'

      Church: 'But there was no point once the money had been spent there would still have been poor. '

      Good luck with that.

      • 2005wsoxfan .

        I really don't see how that passage even applies to what is being discussed here. But, lets go with it. Are you saying that our church does none of those things? Our Church is the biggest charitable institution in the world. We as a Church spend plenty of time, talent, and treasure feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and ministering to those in prison. Our Church recognizes great saints who have worked with the poor such as Mother Theresa. Where are the Atheistic humanitarian efforts? Where are the Atheistic out reach programs? Where are the great Atheistic humanitarians? Are there Atheistic missions working with the poor in third world countries?

        • Michael Murray

          We as a Church spend plenty of time, talent, and treasure feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and ministering to those in prison.

          Well if you think you've covered what your God is demanding I guess that's OK.

          That passage suggests to me that the Church should be doing everything it can to relieve poverty not, as you are suggesting, hiding behind the line that the poor will always be with us.

          What charitable work atheists do or don't do is irrelevant to this discussion which is about is the Church doing what God requires.

          There other options the Church could pursue of course. Like sell the riches and invest the proceeds and use the earnings to increase the existing charitable work. Or even have a go at eliminating poverty altogether. I think humanity could do that.

          • 2005wsoxfan .

            Michael, there are many passages in the Bible that gives the Church many missions one of which is to work with the poor that however is not her only mission (See my first post). Are you seriously suggesting that if the church sells all of it's assets then there would be no more poverty? (See my first post) How much do you think it all adds up to? Besides, what about the people who buy these things couldn't they and shouldn't they give that money to the poor instead of buying art work? As far as my questions about Atheist altruism goes it is important to this discussion. This web site is about dialog between Catholics and Atheists and if you are going to question the Church about it's efforts to help the poor I have every right to turn that mirror around and ask the same questions. I think the honest response to this is my first post, see that, otherwise this is just becoming a circular argument and, I do agree with you it will take humanity, all of humanity to eliminate poverty.

          • Michael Murray

            No 2005wsoxfan I disagree I don't see that atheist charitable work is relevant at all. The question is what does that passage in Matthew tell you about the level of commitment that Christians should show to helping the poor. It worried me as a teenager before I was an atheist. I always thought my contemporaries, particularly my elders where extremely complacent about this.

            'Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me.'

            It doesn't sound to me like helping the poor is just one mission amongst many. Something that as long as you do a bit has you covered.

        • Susan

          Our Church recognizes great saints who have worked with the poor such as Mother Theresa.

          What exactly did Mother Teresa do for the "the poor"?

          Are you saying that our church does none of those things?

          No.

          Where are the Atheistic humanitarian efforts?

          Any charity without Yahweh at the helm or Allah or Zeus could be considered an atheistic charity. There's also the problem with charities rejecting contributions by atheists simply because they don't claim to believe in unevidenced deities.

          The other problem is that you claim to have access to a deity that cares more about suffering than anyone could imagine. So, you've set the bar high. Pomp and pageantry (though they make YOU feel good) are at odds with that assertion.

          There is no such thing as "the poor". There are sentient beings who suffer, especially, exclusively (in your story) HUMAN sentient beings who suffer. Helping that human doesn't mean welfare. It means one less gold chalice that might spark plug an economy among those whose work ethic and skills can't get going because they are starving.

          • Doug Shaver

            What exactly did Mother Teresa do for the "the poor"?

            She got them off the streets. Wasn't that all they needed?

  • Mar

    Roman Catholicism is just non-biblical. The fact that they do not rely solely on biblical authority makes them non-biblical.

    • Doug Shaver

      The fact that they do not rely solely on biblical authority makes them non-biblical.

      Can you support that claim with a quotation from the Bible?

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  • David Oh

    This guy has to be an idiot. His arguments are so laughable, I'm not even going to address them. What a goof.

  • Marcus Taylor

    To say the woman in Bethany with Jesus rubbing ointment onto his feet is anything like what the Catholic church is doing today is complete blasphemy. There is nothing and no one that is anything like the saviour here today.
    Jesus did not need expensive buildings or gold when he preached, who are you to say what God disdains or doesn't?
    The buildings, gold, pomp and ceremony are to glorify pompous old men that seek to put themselves into God's place. I would rather starve anyway than accept the money stolen from people over the generations as the 'crusades' murdered innocents in their thousands.
    Catholicism is paganism flying the Christian flag. The fact that a catholic can justify it's position with such a poor argument that it belongs to the poor anyway is pathetic. I've no problem with the Catholic churches wealth but don't pretend to be bothered about helping people in general. It's aim is to be as powerful as possible by any means as it always was.

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