Should the Catholic Church Sell St. Peter’s Basilica to Help the Poor?

St Peters Basilica in Rome“I looked up at the great basilica, and I had two reactions:  First, I appreciated its beauty and reverence; but then I thought, ‘What corruption caused someone to spend so much on this building when people are hungry’?”

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I made a new friend on the train this week.  Mark described himself as a Christian but not a Catholic.  As Amtrak #358 sped along the track from Chicago, where I’d been attending a conference, to Dearborn, Mark and I chatted about a lot of things:  about our families, about our work, and about faith.  When he heard that I was a Catholic writer, he embraced the opportunity to raise a few questions about Pope Francis and to express some concerns that he had with the Church, as he understood it. I know that Mark’s questions are echoed by many others who see the Church from the outside, but who have never talked to a real Catholic to get an insider’s perspective.  So here goes, in what will likely become a series of Quick Takes on the Catholic Faith. Today:  The Church’s wealth.

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Mark had a good point:  Certainly there are widows and orphans to feed, refugees to house, expectant mothers to assist and abandoned spouses to comfort.  Mindful of all of these profound needs, shouldn’t the Church divest itself of its great wealth and give it all to the poor?

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I’d like to suggest four key reasons why selling all is NOT the approach mandated by the Scriptures.

1.  Gratitude Requires That We Preserve the Gifts of Those Who Have Gone Before Us.

Wouldn’t you seem ungrateful if your parents had scrimped and saved to give you a pricey wedding gift, only to have you cast it aside?  Likewise, past generations of the faithful–grateful for God’s beneficent care, and eager to share their appreciation by giving of their blessings–have donated the funds, or contributed the artwork, or supported the artist, with the expectation that their gift will be appreciated and will serve as an inspiration to prayer for future generations.

2.  Jesus himself expected that we would honor him with our wealth.

Remember the story in Luke 12, when the woman washes Jesus’ feet with her hair, and anoints them with expensive nard?  It’s Judas who objects–insisting that the perfume could have been sold, and the money used to feed the poor.  But rather than agreeing with Judas, Jesus scolds him–reminding him that the poor, we will always have with us.  Here is the story (American Standard Version):

Magdalen washes Jesus feet with hairMary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith,

Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor?

Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein.

Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying.

For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always.

Jesus was God, and was worthy of devotion.  Even though there were poor people to be served, it was fitting that he should have been honored by her anointing with the precious oil.  In the same way, it is right and good to build something (or paint something, or sculpt something) truly beautiful for God.

3.  The Poor Deserve Beauty, Too.

Stained glass windows, St. Hilda's Church, AmpleforthIf the great art of the Church were sold, it would most likely be preserved behind closed doors, in private collections of the very wealthy.  Better, I think, to allow everyone–even persons of humble means–to enjoy the works of the Masters, to allow their hearts and minds to be drawn upward toward heaven by the rich imagery of the saints, by the glow of alabaster and the sheen of marble and the intricacy of fine metalwork.  The Church has been a repository of great art, and has made its treasures available for all to enjoy.

4.  Beauty Leads Us to Holiness.

Thomas Aquinas named three characteristics of beauty:  integritas (integrity), consonantia (proportion), and claritas (clarity).  Beauty is something which we recognize in creation, and it leads us to greater understanding of God, who in creating the Beautiful has shown us a little of His boundless Beauty.  As we appreciate the beauty of a flower, we begin to understand a little more of the beauty of its Creator, and we are drawn to love Him more.  Likewise, when a stained glass window enraptures us with its shimmering color and its profound imagery, we appreciate the creator (the artist), and the Creator of the creator (God).

  • David J. White

    It has always seemed to me that those who say that the Church should sell X, Y, or Z and give the money to the poor are often less interested in helping the poor than in getting their hands on X, Y, and Z.

    Also, suppose the Church sells all of its great art, etc.? That feeds the poor today. They’ll be hungry again tomorrow. Then what?

    Finally, Jesus never suggested that the Temple and its various precious vessels should be sold to help the poor.

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      And more interested in scoring some sort of demirit points for the Catholic Church. Tell them to take a hike until they do as much as the catholic Church already does for the poor.

    • fredx2

      That is a great point about the Temple. I never thought of that.

    • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

      St. Peter’s and religious art all across Italy are also the heart of Italian culture.
      I wonder how Italians would feel if the Church started dismantling that heritage and sold it to American or Japanese billionaires who could have donated the funds instead of raping Italy of its heritage.
      Also, how many jobs did building St. Peter’s create for working people?? Thousands I am sure.
      Americans should keep quiet unless they are willing to see Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument, etc. put up for sale first.

  • Episteme

    As a Catholic in the museum & history field, I’m always pretty horrified when the Church sells off artistic and historic properties — although they’re FINALLY recognizing proper conservation and registration ethics comparable to the rest of the art & history world at the Vatican level (there are some lovely Curia documents over the past decade or two on those matters, stemming heavily from the thoughts of Theological Aesthetics, which this blog posts references in all but name), the local dioceses keep messing up when they need a quick buck.

    I think a better system is akin to what was done with Castel Gandolfo this year, where a previously long-private establishment and collection has been opened for public tours and visits, with proceeds going part of preservation of its collection and the rest to local charities. If every ‘closed’ Catholic site did the same thing, there wouldn’t be any need to sell off sites, since the poor could ‘profit’ off of the art and history of the church as an addition to the other charity of the Church, while she provides education and beauty of Art and History to those with the wherewithal to trade donations for a visit (Castel Gandolfo is equivalent to a visit to something like the Met, so I’m not talking about an experience that only the very rich could experience).

    BTW, I’m not advocating adding entrance fees to free sights like historic churches (although better discussion of proceeds on donations and charity, given the wealth or spending of many tourists and pilgrims could bring in some more sizable monies for the poor off of those sites and collections), but rather employing sites that can’t be opened for free because of scale or conservation cost, and taking advantage of needing entry fees to justify the damage of so much foot traffic to gather donations for the poor out of those monies. You won’t get the same amount of people in a site that costs as you would in a free location, but you’re having both the benefits listed above in the blog post AND using the collections of the church as effectively collateral for donations by pilgrims and tourists.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Your four points are right on, and really once you sell the Basilica you have nothing left for future poor. That is such a red herring. The Catholic Church probably does more for the poor than all the protestant denominations combined. When they do as much as the Catholic Church, then they should start talking. Otherwise, tell them they should pull their weight in charity.

  • captcrisis

    Except for no. 1, these reasons would justify building another basilica, at the same fantastic cost. The reasons would have the most force if the basilica were put in the poorest possible area. Mauritania, maybe?

    • fredx2

      And in fact, the world is dotted with beautiful Cathedrals, each of them open to the poorest of the poor, and at least in days gone by, the poor could be treated to a world class service of great music every once in a while. With today’s church music, not so much, (Today’s banal new church music is an affront to rich and poor alike, perhaps more so to the poor, who will never hear the greatness of Mozart’s requiem mass in full blown majesty.)
      Every large city has lots of poor people. They can go to the cathedral any time they want.
      Actually, now that I think of it, those great cathedrals should put on the old , magnificent mass, complete with great music by Mozart etc, and should run buses into the poorer neighborhoods, bringing them to the mass for free.

      Here, watch this. This is one smallish parish in Minnesota that has the right idea. (The music you hear is live, sung by a choir. It’s not just a recording)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHrqZVF7Hm0

      • captcrisis

        But beauty and opulence by itself does not advance a particular faith. All it does is impress people (and possibly intimidate them). I’d love to visit one of those Gothic cathedrals in France — over 100 feet tall, perfectly constructed, 800 years ago, with nothing but chisels and straightedges. Peasants in those days were living more or less in the Iron Age. Imagine the effect such a place would have made on those peasants, trundling into the church in their rags, then looking up at the huge vault going halfway to Heaven. Add the effect of the stained glass, the incense, and the music. They must have thought “THIS is the place of God!!”

        But — the content of what was being worshipped did not matter.

        I’m reminded of the great music written for the Latin Mass. Most of the poor people in the pews didn’t know what the hell was being said. The choir was singing “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”, but could just as skillfully and beautifully have been singing “They’re creepy and they’re kooky, the Addams family”.

        • Defensor Autem

          The age old argument against ANY AND ALL traditions. Honoring Mary, asking for the intercession of saints, praying the rosary, statues, paintings…the list goes on and on. Evangelicals and progressives always posit that these things take away from worship or distort worship when in fact they COMPLEMENT worship.

          Surrounding ourselves with reminders of Jesus and his legacy (the entire church) serves only to increase our devotion to him. This is not because we think it is pretty therefore we worship it. This is because language, song, and art are all displays of God’s beauty. Catholics are not so simple minded as to worship an object or a human being.

          The reason for this iconoclasm is not to redirect people to God, it is to lead them to join another denomination. The reason is based in self interest and competition.

          Latin was the language of the Church because it was easily spread to all corners of Christendom. And it is a BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE.

          • captcrisis

            Well it’s beautiful to *you*. But only because of its associations. It would have different associations to a victim of Catholic imperialism (forced conversions among Native Americans by the Spanish, for example). In fact the use of Latin owes more to Constantine than to anyone else. It was originally a tool of dominance by which the Church became Rome-centered (as opposed to the originally more dominant, older Greek-speaking Churches in places like Antioch).

          • Defensor Autem

            Check the history on that one. Old Latin was originally used to unify the farther corners of the early Church. In the 2nd century it was being used in Spain, Gaul, and North Africa. The first latin manuscripts are actually from this era. They were generally ad hoc for the purposes of complementing a teaching or sermon. Sound familiar?

            Greek originated from the Greek-Jewish people after Alexander conquered the Middle East. Ecclesiastical Latin was not “Classical Latin” as was used in conducting business. Ecclesiastical Latin was derived from the vernacular speech as well as Greek.

            Latin was used for its convenience in bringing the word to foreign nations. It persists because of its unchanging quality. Constantine may have aided in its use when he issued his Edict however Latin’s use was not due to this.

            Sources
            http://www.tbsbibles.org/pdf_information/157-1.pdf
            Nunn, H.P.V. “An Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin”

          • captcrisis

            Thanks for this illuminating and pretty objective-sounding article. Lurking behind it though is the figure of Constantine. The author talks about the spread of Latin, but only mentions western provinces, where by the 4th century it was in “general, but not exclusive, use in Christian writings”, and to create some uniformity in 382 the Bishop of Rome (who by then called himself “Pope”) commissioned Jerome (born in what is now Croatia but educated in Rome) to write a well-translated Latin Bible. The Pope, of course, was picked by the emperor, as had all Popes since Constantine made Christianity the state religion some 70 years before.

          • Defensor Autem

            I am curious, why the animosity towards Constantine? Furthermore while secular rulers had a hand in papal selection until 1059, they never were the primary say. When disputes arose over elections a ruler may have stepped in to settle, but even so these secular rulers were Christians as well, just simply Christians who had a secular title.

          • captcrisis

            It’s not animosity; I’m just pointing out that the Catholic Church is the creation of Constantine (not Paul or even Jesus). It was at that point that it acquired land, wealth, temporal power, and began its long dependence on the Roman (and later Holy Roman) Emperor. The Great Schism (1054) was caused by a dispute as to whether Constantine had or had not given Church leadership to the Bishop of Rome. The Pope at the time, Leo IX, was relying on a (forged) document written by Constantine. The Pope’s premise was that Popes were created by the Emperor.

          • Defensor Autem

            Ahh now the point comes out. Well I am gonna not argue the history extensively on this one because in many ways you are correct. The Catholic Church has relied on many many many secular entities for land, money, and power. In fact, just about every Church has had to use secular authorities to further its own religion at some point or else it hasn’t really succeeded.

            I don’t believe that Christianity was ever meant to be separate from governments or from political entities. Christianity is supposed to change them, build them up, make them stronger and better in only positive ways as our faith should do in all of us.

            The “Roman” Catholic Church does not really exist the way most think it does. The Roman Rite in the Catholic Church is what actually exists and that simply constitutes the specific traditions and procedures that one Rite of Catholicism has. The Catholic Church also has many many other rites such as Chaldean, Maronite, or Byzantine.

            Many of these other Rites do not use Latin in their mass, and they do not recognize all of the Roman traditions we have, however they are FULLY Catholic and all fully recognize the Holy Father. All of us are part of the Universal Church established by St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. You see, while the Church did get a huge boost from Rome, Rome’s emperors did not completely change things. It was not like Constantine won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge then decided he was going to start a new Church. The Church was already there and he recognized that God blessed him because he listened. He knew that he was to give gratitude after the battle by supporting and uplifting Christianity.

            Did he reestablish anything? No. Did he change anything? No.

  • fredx2

    It seems to me there is a balance.
    The church needs to do two things – sustain the faithful in their faith, and go out and help the poor.
    Beautiful churches attract and hold more people than ugly or non existent churches. The people in the church need to be sustained in their faith, and beautiful churches help do that. The more people attracted to the faith, the more people will take Christianity seriously and those people will contribute to the poor in greater numbers. So beautiful churches help add to the total amount of money going to the poor.
    All of this is born out by the fact that the Catholic church is the world’s largest charitable organization.
    But it is not an easy question. There are valid points to both sides. After all, Jesus said go and sell everything you have, and follow me. So we need to be careful. And we should always question the balance of serving the faithful versus providing for the poor.
    As for St Paul’s in Rome – it is probably OK to have this one magnificent church to serve as the center of a worldwide Catholicism/Christianity. It was bought and paid for 500 years ago, and to “sell it” (to who, for what, what would they do with it?) would probably be a waste.

    In the case of the Vatican, selling St Peter’s would give a momentary bump in revenues that would be depleted rather quickly, and then what? We would lack one of the greatest stages for evangelization the world has ever seen.

  • Eric Korn

    Two points: First, the creation of the treasures of the Church sustained a host of tradesman and artists. These labors provided sustenance for many families. Second, the great art of the church continues to sustain communities. Who would visit Rome if it were not for the magnificant buildings and the art within? Third, great art inspires all people to whatever greatness they aspire. What a dreary world it would be without the beauty that art provides us.

  • Kathleen

    Every time someone brings up this subject, I tell them they remind me of Judas – John 12:5.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    5. What kind of idiot would you find to buy it? The upkeep on such places is enormous in comparison to their value, there is a reason why investors who buy such buildings usually bulldoze them to build an apartment house.

    • Defensor Autem

      ^gotta love a simple business answer rather than high theological thought

    • Ryan

      This is exactly it. Everyone’s always banging on about how wealthy the Catholic church is, but the majority of their wealth is illiquid. Yes, while the Basilica is technically very valuable, in reality, it’s financially worthless until you can find someone to pay for it.

      The upkeep and maintenance costs of these buildings are prohibitive, and in most countries they’re protected by the government as historic sites, which means you can’t really do much renovating – and you certainly can’t demolish it.

      So what would you do with it? .

      The only possible buyer I can think of is some eccentric billionaire who thinks it would be funny to own it, and you really can’t count on that happening more than once or twice.

      Questioning why it was built in the first place is one thing, but questioning why it isn’t being sold off is just silly, and frankly reveals that the person asking the questions hasn’t put all that much thought into the matter.

  • cminca

    St. Peter’s was built by the Popes–not by people making “voluntary donations”. (You might make that argument about other religious buildings–but you cannot about St. Peter’s.)

    It was built for glory of the PAPACY. It celebrates the temporal power of the papacy. “When Urban VIII became Pope, he is reported to have told Bernini: “Your luck is to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini Pope, Cavaliere; but ours is much greater to have Cavalier Bernini alive in our pontificate.” http://insidethevatican.com/magazine/culture/art/bernini-the-popes-artist-in-baroque-rome

    In addition–the vatican also has a treasure trove of pagan Greek and Roman art. Exactly what catholic purpose does holding onto the original Laocoon group?

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      First of all that’s heresay; it’s unverifiable. Even if it is true, the over arching objective was for the glorification of Christ and His Church He handed over to St. Peter. How individual Popes competed against each other to glorify Christ is secondary.
      What denomination do you belong to and does it even remotely match the charity the Catholic Church provides across the world? That’s the real question.

      • cminca

        “….the over arching objective was for the glorification of Christ and His Church…” as unverifiable as you claim my remark was.

        And where is your defense of the Vatican museum holding PAGAN art?

        • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

          Pagan art glorifies God. All art glorifies God. If you know your theology, beauty is a gift from God.

          • pagansister

            “Pagan art glorifies God” Yup! .

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            I assume that is a positive “Yup!” ;)

          • pagansister

            It is, Manny, it is.

        • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

          We’re Catholic, not fundamentalist Bible worshipers.

      • cminca

        BTW–the point of the article wasn’t how much charity the CC provides–the point of the article was the defense of the CC’s wealth. It you want to tout the charity done by the CC you need to defend why it didn’t do SO MUCH MORE with the money sunk into buildings, treasure, and mercenary soldiers.

        • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

          It has been pointed out repeatedly here:See John 12:4-8:

          4Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said,5“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages* and given to the poor?”6He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.e7So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.*8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”f

          I ask you again. How much does your church do for the poor? Frankly I think you’re just an Catholic hater looking to try to score points, no different than Judas.

          • cminca

            I’ll see your John 12:4-8 and raise you Matthew 19:21. And I’ll remind you that the final part of that verse is “Then come, follow me.”

          • Tom B.

            I see your Matt 19:21; and raise you: You first.

          • cminca

            That doesn’t make any sense.

          • Tom B.

            Let me explain it.
            You: Preach the Church should sell its stuff and give the resulting money to the poor.
            Me: To avoid being a hypocrite, You must first sell your stuff and give the resulting money to the poor.
            I think that’s clear.

          • cminca

            Tom–I’m not the one pretending to be God’s representative on earth.

          • Tom B.

            Huh, aren’t you??? That sure wasn’t clear to me.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Matthew 19:21: Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect,* go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
            That’s directed to individuals, not a church. Christ doesn’t tell the high priests to sell the Temple.

            I assume then you have sold everything you have and given it to the poor?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            And John 12:4-8 refers to Jesus’ preparation for his death. Is the Churches wealth (including not only art, but real estate, investments, etc) being done in preparation for Jesus’ death? I don’t think so. You are ignoring the context of the verse to excuse the church’s excess wealth.

            Also, accusing cminca of hypocrisy is irrelevant to the argument. The church’s fault is not excused just because its accuser is guilty of the same fault. If a robber accuses another of being a robber, they are both still robbers.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            No, you’re missing the point. The glorification of Christ and God are as important as helping the poor. That’s Jesus’s point. Which Church do you belong to and how much does it do for the poor? Do you want to compare with the Catholic Church? And no, cminca and you are just trying to score points against the Catholic Church. You’re a bunch of hypocrites. If the issue was that important to you, I assume you then have sold everything you own for the poor.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I understand your point but I suppose that this is a point we just won’t agree on. I cannot see how spending money on a new gold monstrance or multi-million dollar housing for priests is of equal importance as food for a starving child. I have a feeling that the child would agree with me.

            You still don’t seem to understand that my or cminca’s personal motivations are irrelevant to the topic. We are discussing whether or not the Church’s excess wealth could be better spent on the poor. The answer to this question has absolutely nothing to do with what two random people on the internet do with their money or what motivates them. Seriously. This is Informal Fallacies 101: a Tu Quoque fallacy and also an Ad Hominem Fallacy

            But I will satiate your curiosity anyway.

            I suppose that, technically, I belong to the Catholic Church (surprise! ;-) ) since they still hold my baptismal records and I’ve never been excommunicated, but I no longer consider myself religious. And no, I don’t sell all my possessions to give to the poor (that would be unreasonable) but I give what I can. Similarly, I don’t expect the Church to sell all her possessions, just all the excess riches.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            We will not agree. What is excess is subjective. Providing a Church that one can love and be proud of brings in resources, both in building and art, and adherents. People across the world of all religions travel to visit St. Peter and its art. People convert because of the tradition and beauty of the Catholic Church. I don’t even think they charge, certainly not to get into the church. I remember visiting the Cistine Chapel and the museum. I can’t remember if I paid anything, but if I did it was only nominal. Those priceless objects would only bring in a one time sale, and then what? The Church is using it for the public good, and whatever revenue it generates gets spent in charity. The reason I used the ad hominen line is because this is a common meme in attacking the church. The attack itself is ad hominem. I hope you can find your way back. Christianity can solve many of a person’s problems, and the fullness of Christianity is Roman Catholicism, with the possible exception of Eastern Orthodox. If you have some problems with RC, explore Greek Orthodox Church. Perhaps it might click better for you.

          • kathyschiffer

            In the Old Testament, God directed Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be lined with gold, with golden angels, filled with the precious items which represented God. It was treated with the greatest respect–only the priest could be in its presence, and when he went in to the Ark, he wore a long cord so that if he were to fall while in the presence of God, others could pull him out without themselves going in to the Ark.

            The Ark was made of the most costly materials because nothing else was suitable for God.

            Read the Old Testament descriptions of the Ark, the Tabernacle. It sounds remarkably like a Catholic Church.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I suppose if you believe that an unlimited God has such a high requirement for material goods and that this requirement supersedes that of the poor, then sure. Let the theologians haggle over why this might be. (Reminds me of the George Carlin bit: “[God] always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”) Curious that God the Son mingles with the poor and has no place to rest his head, but God the Father settles for nothing less than a palace.

            Yes, the ark is described as very ornate. I would have the same objection with that as well.

            I’m curious about what you said about priests having a cord in case they fall into the ark. Is there a place I can find more info on this? The ark is described as being the size of a large trunk…. seems that you could just climb out if you managed to fall in.

          • kathyschiffer

            Magisteria, I wrote very quickly, so was perhaps too obscure. The Tabernacle was kept in the Holy of Holies–which only the priest could enter. Here is one source, albeit not necessarily the best source, which describes it. http://www.nnedaog.org/sermons/SERTAB5.HTM

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Thanks! That clarifies it for me.

    • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

      While not built originally by the people, the first one wasn’t built by a Pope either:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_St._Peter%27s_Basilica

      And the Popes in the 16th century that rebuilt it, did so out of respect for the original with the best artists they could afford.

      • cminca

        It is Baroque–a style that is fundamentally tied to the Roman Catholic counter-reformation and a style that meant to awe.
        It was also used by the royalty of the time (particularly the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons) to enforce the idea of the divine right of kings.
        This is the architecture of POWER. Not about the glory of God.

        • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

          That’s the modern one, built in the 16th century after the old one came close to collapsing.

          There is a history of this basilica that stretches back a thousand years before the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons came to power, which is what I was trying to point out and you would have known if you had followed the link.

          • cminca

            There is nothing in the link to suggest the 16th century Popes “did so out of respect for the original.”
            Nothing.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            Those without ears, cannot hear.

  • http://stagesofprayer.wordpress.com/ Antonius

    Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36) “The Judgment of the Nations”

    Jesus does not mention any institutions, or government programs feeding the poor, he explicitly points out our responsibility as individuals to feed the poor. This does not mean that the Church should not feed the poor, it should and it has, but that each of us has a responsibility as individuals. That includes me, you and Mark from the train.

  • pagansister

    Would it make sense to the Church for Bishops in some places who live in luxury to forgo that luxury and live in less expensive, opulent houses? I believe Pope Francis has chosen to not live in the apartment that is available for the Popes to live in. Isn’t his apartment less luxurious than the one reserved for the Pope? Personally I find this Pope to be refreshing different than the previous Pope, Benedict.

    • kathyschiffer

      I’ve been in the old papal apartment, and it’s not that luxurious, either. And the current Pope still uses some of that space–the library, where he greets foreign heads of state, for example. He just doesn’t sleep in the bedroom. It’s a show, not a reality.

      • pagansister

        Thank you for the info on the papal apartment and that Pope Francis just doesn’t sleep in the bedroom. :-)

        • kathyschiffer

          I’m sure there are other rooms, as well–a parlor for example–that are not in use since this pope has chosen not to live there. You read that he doesn’t want to live alone; but neither did Pope John Paul II before him live alone. Archbishop Harvey, his personal secretary, was head of the papal household. There were nuns who took responsibility for the cooking and cleaning. There was a staff of workers. I don’t know who else actually lived there, but he was not alone.

          And believe me, Pope Francis–like other popes before him–has just as much room to carry on his work as did his predecessors. The whole thing is just silly.

  • Guest

    Do they gain financially from these assets? If they do, selling them off today gets them a large amount of money today but nothing for tomorrow. Not a smart way of helping the poor, who will always be with us. In any case, the push to sell these assets of great historical importance is often a hate-filled knee-jerk reaction to the Vatican with no consideration of the consequences in the future.

  • ucfengr

    Should the United States sell the Smithsonian Institute to help the poor?

    • FireInSpace

      The Smithsonian educates, which provides a service. This is not an appropriate comparison.

      • ucfengr

        True. If it weren’t for the Smithsonian I’d never know what dresses the First Ladies wore to the inauguration or what Archie Bunker’s chair looks like in person, so there’s that.

        • tt

          There is far more at the Smithsonian than the television/entertainment collection. It encompasses massive collections from all of American history housed in 19 museums. Also, cultural history such as what you reference is not irrelevant to any nation’s history.

          • kathyschiffer

            And there is far more in St. Peter’s Basilica than simply a building. There is great art by the Masters, windows of alabaster, the great Baldicchino by Bernini, statues of great saints and of Longinus the Roman centurion. There are the tombs of many popes, laid to rest in the crypt or beneath the side altars. There is Michelangelo’s Pieta, an emotional reminder of the love of Mary for her crucified Son.

            And by the way, the great basilica is in constant use. If you go early in the morning, you will hear the song of Catholics in many tongues, praying at morning masses at many of the side altars. Bishops, priests, brothers and sisters from around the world join with the faithful from many countries to pray, to worship Christ in the Eucharist in the eucharistic chapel.

            What I’m really saying is, How dare you decide that this long heritage should be destroyed and diminished? Just because your church has nowhere near the history or the membership or the tradition or the worldwide support, does not give you the right to criticize the largest Church on earth for its great art, which is truly a celebration of faith.

          • tt

            I made no comment whatsoever about St Peter’s. None. Not one.

          • ucfengr

            The cultural history of the Church is not irrelevant either.

          • tt

            I made no comment whatsoever about St Peter’s. None. Not one. No need to correct me on something I did not comment about.

          • Jim Dailey

            I think you just got schooled! See – the Vatican exists for education just like the Smithsonian!

      • http://poetprophet.com Poet Prophet

        It’s an absolutely fair comparison. The Vatican educates on all sorts of important history AND Science. Plus, this argument holds little weight. Why not photocopy the constitution and sell the original?

  • Frank6548

    The people who say that worship a very small god indeed.

  • http://poetprophet.com Poet Prophet

    Whenever somebody says this to me, especially if they are secular – I ask “Should we sell off the smithsonian to pay for the national debt?”.

    Selling off the Church’s Majesty is just a cheap jab by ignorant people with an ulterior motive.

  • Chuck Farley

    The reasons given for the church to hold on to its massive wealth are all pretty weak.

    1. Gratitude Requires That We Preserve the Gifts of Those Who Have Gone Before Us.

    Gratitude has no such requirement. Any gift given with expectations of how it will be utilized is no gift at all. If I give my son a car for graduation I would be foolish to expect him to use it as I expect in perpetuity.

    2. Jesus himself expected that we would honor him with our wealth.

    The verse used to justify this seems to be more to vilify Judas, than it is to show that Jesus expects us to honor him with our wealth. Even so, it says that you can give your wealth to the poor after he is gone, which he is.

    3. The Poor Deserve Beauty, Too.

    Even if true, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is to say beauty is subjective. I’m sure that there are many who don’t find the various treasures of the Catholic Church to be beautiful. Moreover, the author states that the treasures are available for all to enjoy, which is false. Many church treasures are locked away. Also, the poor that don’t live within walking distance of any of these readily available treasures have virtually no chance in ever seeing them, whether they deserve it or not.

    4. Beauty Leads Us to Holiness.

    This one is subjective. It may or may not “lead us to holiness”, but the argument against #3 holds for this as well.

    In my opinion the church should sell at least as much of its treasure as is required to settle its debts. Specifically to the victims of crimes committed by its employees and the legal fees it has incurred in those litigations. Stop hiding behind bankruptcy. We can talk about feeding the poor after that.

    • FireInSpace

      This ^

    • Defensor Autem

      If I hand my son a car I expect him to take good care of it until the car has served its purpose. Furthermore if I give my son an heirloom that has the ability to last till kingdom come I expect him to take care of it in that way.

      The Bible does not vilify. Any example of vilification is not used as a means to simply talk about how someone is bad or wrong, it is used to teach a lesson about how to be good.

      Beauty may be subjective however there is a reason things are termed “beautiful.” Whether you personally find it attractive or not, all can appreciate the people who made it, the lives it has touched, and the value it brings. At least a majority will find it beautiful if you want to pin it down to sheer percentages in order to qualify it.

      Finally, you do not have to think it is holy or leads you to holiness, but this whole “you don’t have to, but don’t tell me what to do” is the exact argument so many use against the church. A double standard is set when enemies of the church say, “you are hypocrites, you say serve the poor and yet you hoard a vast wealth,” while at the same time saying, “you can’t tell me what to do because I do not believe in that philosophy.”

      Believe in it or not, accept the Church or not, I don’t think the Church especially cares, however poking holes in its arguments by saying, “well that’s subjective” or “well not everyone sees it that way” is invalid.

      Do not try to define the Church’s standards by your own interpretations of the Church’s own philosophy when you do not follow them yourself.

      • Korou

        You’re comparing apples and oranges, and there’s no double standard except the Catholic Church’s here. We don’t have to subscribe to your beliefs to point out your hypocrisy. In fact, that’s probably why we’re in a position to do so.

        • Defensor Autem

          Apple’s to oranges’s? What apples and which oranges? I would say the apples to oranges arguments comes into play by comparing a car to St. Peter’s Basilica as was proposed by the first argument in this thread.

          And as far as a double standard goes within the Catholic Church, I believe if I check my history the Catholic Church’s teachings and stances on quite possibly every matter have not completely changed. They have evolved, grown, and been refined much in the same way the Constitution has. I think it reasonable to say Catholicism has set something of a benchmark for moral standards.

          Other organizations and philosophies have set up philosophies and standards as well, and often very good standards that can agree or disagree with Catholic. I do not deny this.

          The double standard happens when Catholics get called out for say…not selling St. Peter’s to help the poor? We back it up with the moral reasons we believe which justify not selling St. Peter’s such as holiness, stewardship, the benefit of all, etc. Opponents say that they do not believe in those ideas, they are all subjective, therefore you should still sell the basilica. A Catholic like myself says well what do you believe about these ideas and philosophies? The response is these ideas are all relative to each person and so each person must decide for themself; it matters not what I personally believe.

          Well if these beliefs are all relative then how do opponents get to decide what the Catholic Church believes and whether that is a valid belief or not? There is your double standard. If you are not a relativist then I tell you let the one among you who is blameless cast the first stone. Every person everywhere has something valuable they keep and do not sell to give to the poor for whatever reason they decide.

          • Korou

            “The double standard happens when Catholics get called out for say…not
            selling St. Peter’s to help the poor? We back it up with the moral
            reasons we believe which justify not selling St. Peter’s such as
            holiness, stewardship, the benefit of all, etc.”

            I know you do. And they’re not good reasons. You were told to sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you preach the virtues of charity and poverty, and then you build some of the most opulent palaces in the world. It’s not hypocrisy to point out this hypocrisy.

            “Well if these beliefs are all relative then how do opponents get to
            decide what the Catholic Church believes and whether that is a valid
            belief or not? There is your double standard.”
            No, it’s not a double standard, it’s two facts which have nothing to do with each other.
            All that matters is that the Catholic Church says people should do one thing but does the opposite, and that’s hypocrisy, no matter what worldview you subscribe to.

          • Defensor Autem

            Your argument claims the Church should sell its properties because with regards to the Church’s logic, “they’re not good reasons.” I propose you argue the reasons rather than simply stating that they are not good. Stating something isn’t good is a weak and subjective argument if it can be at least termed that.

            Furthermore your second argument contains no more evidence. You state, “the Catholic Church says people should do one things but does the opposite…” If you want to get technical here, the Church is not a person, and no one person benefits from the holdings the Church has. As a Catholic I with the rest of my Church understand the call to charity and poverty.

          • Korou

            Off on travels now. Will answer in a day or so – although I must say Chuck Farley seems to be doing fine.

          • Korou

            I wouldn’t have thought this needed clarifying, but since it does I will be happy to.
            What I said was “I know you do. And they’re not good reasons. You were told to sell all
            you have and give it to the poor, and you preach the virtues of charity
            and poverty, and then you build some of the most opulent palaces in the
            world. It’s not hypocrisy to point out this hypocrisy.”
            I wonder why you only responded to the first two sentences and ignored the rest.
            Let’s go back and look at the poor arguments provided in the article here, shall we?

            “1. Gratitude Requires That We Preserve the Gifts of Those Who Have Gone Before Us.”

            I don’t want to be offensive, so I’ll simply say that history makes it extremely clear that the Catholic Church has been working very hard for centuries, through pilgrimages, indulgences, the acquisition of the Americas, the brisk trade in relics to acquire as much money as possible, and has been very, very good at it. To portray this as the “gifts” of friends and family throughout the church is plainly mistaken.

            “2. Jesus himself expected that we would honor him with our wealth.”
            No, you’ve quoted a single isolated story and determined for yourself what you think it means. One isolated incident is hardly enough for us to tell anything about anything.

            “3. The Poor Deserve Beauty, Too.”
            How are those who would benefit from the distribution of the Catholic Church’s obscene wealth going to be in a position to enjoy this “publicly shared” art work anyway?

            On the other hand, it is a very good example of how a thin excuse looks fat if you want it to badly enough. Just like the next one: “Beauty promotes holiness.”

            Take a step back into the real world. The Catholic Church is incredibly wealthy. It doesn’t need all this wealth. Should it be allowed to keep it? Of course it should, the gold and jewels and beautiful works of art and priceless buildings belong to the Church perfectly legally. But you can’t ask us to take you seriously when you say that you care about the poor and you don’t care about material wealth. And the transparent rationalisations (“Money makes us more holy!”) that have appeared in this thread only serve to highlight this.

      • Chuck Farley

        If I hand my son a car I expect him to take good care of it until the car has served its purpose. Furthermore if I give my son an heirloom that has the ability to last till kingdom come I expect him to take care of it in that way.

        Who decides when the car has served its purpose, you or him? If it is you, then this is not a gift. Gifts are given freely without strings attached. Heirlooms included.

        The Bible does not vilify.

        It most certainly does, you contradicting that doesn’t make it true. The verse in question vilifies Judas by attributing his opinion to him being a thief. I see you conveniently ignored the part about Jesus being gone, so now it’s ok to use the wealth to feed the poor.

        Beauty may be subjective however there is a reason things are termed “beautiful.” Whether you personally find it attractive or not, all can appreciate the people who made it, the lives it has touched, and the value it brings. At least a majority will find it beautiful if you want to pin it down to sheer percentages in order to qualify it.

        This is false. Beauty is subjective, absolutely. Not all people can appreciate the people who made it, the lives it touched, and the “value” it brings. Again, you didn’t address the facts that much of the church’s treasure is locked away, and the vast majority of the world’s poor will never see any of the church’s beautiful treasure. It is primarily for those who are wealthy enough to travel. Also, I’m pretty sure there are multiple donation boxes at each place.

        Finally, you do not have to think it is holy or leads you to holiness

        The assertion that “Beauty leads us to holiness” was made by Kathy Schiffer with no real evidence. I don’t really understand the rest of your argument here. I’m not arguing against the church specifically here, just against this ridiculous post about why the church should remain ridiculously wealthy in the face of human suffering. You also neglected to address the victims of church crimes that have yet to receive money ordered by various courts, unpaid legal fees, the shifting of funds to hide wealth, and bankruptcies filed to avoid paying.

        • Defensor Autem

          Consider an estate. If I were to die, I would most likely entrust my estate to my son. Reasonably, I can expect that he will use his best judgement to care for it in a way that I would want. Do I get a say in what he does after I am gone? Surely not. Did I raise my son to be responsible and considerate of his heritage? Well I certainly hope that I have.

          I ignore the part about Jesus saying he would not always be there because I believe he does not mean this in a permanent sense. He is chiding Judas. He says the poor will always be there, but I will not. He most likely meant it to sound literal to the apostles present, but he was teaching a lesson with his words as he does throughout the gospels. He was not saying,”the poor will always be there so let her use the oil on me now, and then when I am gone she should sell it to feed the poor.” That would be useless to preserve for future generations.

          Subjective or not, the concept of “norms” exist. This is what I was referring to. And the overall concept I am emphasizing which creates this double standard is relativism.

          Each person may state what they believe for themself, but as soon as the Church states we believe this, everyone says, “that’s not allowed, you said you believe x and y therefore you have to do xy” whereas the Church says, “We will do z because x+y=z.” Arguing over z is pointless if you do not understand x and y.

          To put it in real terms, arguing about whether the Church should sell St. Peter’s is pointless if you disagree about holiness, beauty or the other points for that matter. Argue about holiness and beauty first. (except for the fact those are subjective therefore we can’t argue? Shucks, relativism wins again…)

          Finally, yes, I did neglect those issues of “Church crimes.” I believe the point of the article is to discuss whether St. Peter’s should be sold. Due to this, I will restrict the subjects I argue about to whether St. Peter’s should be sold. Your other points, while very real, are not relevant for the current argument.

          • Chuck Farley

            Estates and trusts are legal agreements, and you can stipulate pretty much any requirements you like. A freely given gift has no strings. We’ve strayed pretty far from the original assertion that gratitude, the fact that someone is grateful for something given to them requires them to keep it in perpetuity. Kathy’s original statement also implies that in selling its treasure to feed the poor they would be “casting it aside” or wasting it. Once a gift is given that isn’t up to the giver anymore, and gratitude itself has no such requirement.

            You wrote a whole paragraph explaining why the verse in question doesn’t mean what it clearly says, but you didn’t even bother to say what the lesson was that Jesus was supposedly teaching. The fact is that this is one of the most clearly written verses, and because the clear meaning of the words doesn’t actually support your position you have posited a deeper meaning that contradicts the actual verbiage.

            It sounds like you feel that since I don’t share your (and the church’s) views on holiness and beauty that I can’t have valid argument. I can’t criticize the church because I don’t understand the church. Ridiculous.

            You again failed to address that much of the church’s beautiful treasure is locked away, and that even the items that are available to be seen are still out of reach for the vast, vast majority of the poor.

            As for crimes that have been committed by the church (no scare quotes required), I brought it up in the context of the lengths that the church has gone to in order to not pay what is owed by them. It is another example of them valuing treasure over people, and because of that it is relevant.

  • islandbrewer

    Thank you. That was an excellent example of a libertarianish/Marie Antoinette excuse for the RCC’s behavior, and a great argument as to why governments need to take the reins in social welfare, and not “private charities.”

    Now explain how much good the Koch brothers do to help the poor, too.

  • Joy_F

    I recently went through Notre Dame in Montreal – it’s an amazingly beautiful church. I paid for the tour guide which I haven’t done before, and he was explaining the symbolism of the stories painted throughout the church. I think we, in our modern times take it for granted that everyone can read. But it hasn’t always been this way – the cathedrals were painted to tell the stories in pictures that couldn’t be read by the people themselves. That is a part of the church history that absolutely should be preserved.

  • Guest again

    A Billionaire Pastor just built a replica of Solomon’s temple for 300 MILLION dollars.

    Waiting for the outrage…

    http://m.christianpost.com/news/billionaire-pastor-unveils-300-million-temple-of-solomon-church-replica-in-brazil–124427/

  • Richard Ferrara

    Here’s another reason not to sell the Church’s treasures to raise money to help feed the poor: it won’t work.
    See, raising the money is the easy part. The hard part is getting the food and supplies to the people who need them. This is especially true when you’re dealing with under-developed countries, where the people are often starving not because there isn’t enough food but because they live under oppressive governments — and those governments have control over where all that well-intentioned money goes.
    The organizers of Live Aid learned this the hard way in 1985. Much of the $250 million they raised for children in Ethiopia ended up doing nothing but funding the dictators who were keeping the country poor in the first place.
    See:
    http://www.cracked.com/article_19382_5-embarrasing-failures-history-class-turned-into-victories.html

  • Mike Ward

    Yet know one ever wants to sell the Smithsonian, the Declaration on Independence, or the Statue of Liberty to feed the poor.


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