A Myth that Needs Killin’

So here’s a little standard issue “profile” of a dreaded Catholic prelate who thinks that Catholic politicians should face actual canonical disciplines when they spit on obvious Church teaching. It is all, of course, filtered through American political cateegories, such that the prelate is understood to be a Republican operative for pointing out the Dem party is joined at the pelvis with the abortion industry and is a fanatically pro-death party. Speaking this obvious truth is regarded as terribly declasse by David Gibson, the author of the piece. So the mission is to destroy the messenger. How do you do that? By the time-tested strategy of painting him as an effete piece of Euro-royalty living in the lap of luxury, of course! It’s worked for all of American history so why mess with a good thing? Gibson:

The 63-year-old prelate — in his workaday attire of black cassock with red piping and a scarlet sash with matching skullcap — was speaking in his gilded offices on the upper floors of the 16th century Palazzo della Cancelleria, one of the most famous Renaissance palaces in Rome that now houses the Catholic Church’s highest court.

Pause right there. When was the last time you got this sort of color commentary on any American politicians or businessman, in his workaday attire of a $10,000 Armani suit with $800 silk tie and designer Versace shoe in Corinthian leather. When did you get detail that they were speaking from their gilded office in the 18th century Capitol building or from the hundredth floor of the Acme Birdseed Company headquarters with gold toilets purchased with the most recent TARP bailout money?

Rome has been well described as a third world country with great art. Vatican clergy work in the buildings they work in, just as federal employees work in the buildings they work in, because that’s where the offices are. The myth of the Infinite Gilded Wealth of the Vatican is one of the most absurd notions dominating an American mind that still likes to pat itself on the back as a thrifty culture of plain folk 19th Century agrarians who don’t go in for them fancy citified ways of them Eyetalian prelates with their vast wealth.

Update from the 21st century to all Americans: You are now the rich, sleek, fat, corrupt, worldly urban power. Turn on your cable TV. You are the ones striding the corridors of power, hatching Byzantine schemes, whoring after money, sex, and power. The ridiculous attempt, at this late date, to perpetuate those melodramatic 19th century tropes about the immensely powerful world-spanning Vatican whore of Babylon are really past their sell-by date. NY, DC, and LA (and the nation that takes its moral cues from there) fit the bill for Babylon the Great far better than a small bureaucracy on a piece of land the size of a postage stamp. And giant corporations for the Manufacture of the Corporate Story like the WaPo are lapdogs of the Whore. Time for thinking people to put that silly legend of the Simple Honest American vs. the Scheming Vatican Octopus to bed.

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  • Yep! That’s one of my first replies to anyone who raises the “the leaders of the Catholic Church are rich” argument. How can some American living in a McMansion with a Big Screen TV, etc. ,complain about anyone else’s apparent opulence?
    Also, our former pastor used to say, “You think I’m in this for the money? Catholic priests get paid about the least among clergy in the US.” I forget if he said what his salary was or ballparked it, but it was between $20K & $30K. He said, “Rabbi [X], who is a good friend of mine, makes well over $100K a year. Rev. [Y] makes $65K a year.”

    • Ted Seeber

      What area of the country are you in? The average pastor’s salary in Oregon is $12.5k.

      • David J. White

        About 20 years ago one of the priests at the parish I attended in Philadelphia remarked (in the course of a conversation) that he was paid about $500/month. Of course, on top of that the diocese provided a place to live and living expenses; and that was 20 years ago; but still.

    • Ted Seeber

      Oops, didn’t notice this was my friend John- must be East/West Coast difference in standard of living.

  • I have no doubt that the article was attempting to use the imagery to paint a mental picture for the reader. With that said, a little perspective. It isn’t as if America pioneered this image of the Church, or for that matter, is the only country that holds this view today. The Eyetalian prelates on their mounds of wealth is still a popular image for critics of the Church around the world, and its roots don’t go back to 1776 Philadelphia, or Plymouth Rock. You can find similar portraits of the Church dating back centuries. Just read writings from Medieval Europe. If Americans need to learn the lesson, then perhaps once they do, they can teach everyone else.

    Oh, and the good news is, a growing number of Americans may no longer be burdened with all that rich, sleek, fat, corrupt, worldly urban power at the rate we’re going. We can only hope, huh?

    BTW John, I can assure you that there are many Protestant pastors who don’t get that much. Trust me. A large number actually have second jobs just to make ends meet (they’re called bi-vocational pastors – though they do have an advantage if they come into the Catholic Church, already having a source of secular employment).

    • Ted Seeber

      Near as I can tell, it was only true between 1100 and 1300; after that the wealth of the Church has been going downhill. But it took a major slide between 1859-1878. Since then, the income of the Vatican can be measured in the millions of American dollars. Pope Benedict XVI didn’t become The Green Pope solely out of concern for the environment- local energy generation was a major cost-cutting measure for the museums.

      • No, I meant the whole idea that the Church sits atop a mountain of money. That’s a dig that’s been around for ages. It’s not something that is an American distinctive or anything.

      • JMJ

        Ted Seeber: millions of American dollars? A joke, right. The cost-cutting measures that the Vatican is doing doesn’t save ALL that much money as you are implying. All the Popes could be considered “green popes”, which is just another senseless term created by the media to distract from their real and also our, role in God’s world, to spread the Kingdom of God and work for our salvation. +JMJ+

        • Ted Seeber

          The Green Pope was about the fact that Vatican City is both carbon neutral and does on-site wind and solar electric generation. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Last estimate I saw, the budget for the Vatican, including charitable works, was around $8 million- less than many dioceses, but then again, they only have what, 108 acres?

  • Yes, well, David Gibson.

  • Kevin Morán

    Well, I’ve been inside the US Capitol building and it’s all oak, gold and marble-a temple of opulence, if there ever was one.

    • Irenist

      Seconded. It looks like Versailles in there, only more so.

  • Confederate Papist

    Hatred of the rich, *any* rich has replaced baseball as the national past time thanks largely in part to the corrupt federal (Marxist) education system and the (so-called) journalists that pretend to report the news.
    Soviet Tass and Pravda had more objectivity than the american media had and they had the barrel of a gun to their heads, as opposed to the american media who is only too pleased to do what they do..

    • Irenist

      “the corrupt federal (Marxist) education system”
      Ah, yes. That’s the problem with the public schools–they keep teaching our kids that it’s an inevitable necessity of dialectical materialism that the dictatorship of the proletariat will liquidate the bourgeoisie. Funny that I never noticed that lesson plan back when I was a middle school teacher. I suppose it’s all Lincoln’s fault, right?

      • Confederate Papist

        “Funny that I never noticed that lesson plan back when I was a middle school teacher. ”

        Maybe you were a good teacher? Why is it children cannot even tell you who the colonists fought against in the Revolution? Or why the Spanish-American war took place? It ain’t because the kids are stoopid..

        I admit I am painting education with a broad brush, but I believe education, like politics, should be a local issue. Your State or county or community in which you live is better suited to educate your children then some DC hack who could care less one way or the other.

        “it’s all Lincoln’s fault”, strawman statement, you’re better than that.

        • Will

          Most of the educational direction in our state comes from the state. Many states are opting out of no child left behind. We have less local control because our governor and state legislature want control. They are conservatives.

          • Confederate Papist

            Better the State than DC. But DC is still funnelling money to the States mafia style and are still dictating the curriculum.

        • Irenist

          Okay, that’s fair: it was a strawman statement, and I apologize. But I just don’t think throwing around terms like “Marxist” really helps. If you want to argue for local control and local funding as against federal, please just say so. Using “Marxist” as a synonym for “federal” isn’t helpful.

          • The problem with eliminating the term marxist is that it is a technical term as well as a term of insult. We already have a problem with describing economic policies that are fascist as, well, fascist. Multiplying that difficulty of communication by adding marxist to the no go zone is an insult to language and a distinct functional inconvenience. What’s your justification for the linguistic orwellianism?

            • Aaron Fraser

              The point they are making seems to be that the education system… well… isn’t actually Marxist. A little accuracy in communication goes a long way.

    • Blog Goliard

      We must either worship or hate the rich. There is no other option, apparently.

      • Confederate Papist

        How about worshipping God? Mark talks about it all the time on this blog.

    • bob cratchit

      “Hatred of the rich, *any* rich has replaced …”. However, it’s not really that, it’s hatred of the Catholic Church. Most people idolize the wealthy and mitigate their effects. You never hear scathing commentary written about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Forbes, Simon Cowell, Paul McCartney, etc or any other wealthy and how they live or work. Only the Catholic clergy are put under that kind of contemptuous scrutiny.

      • Confederate Papist

        You’re right Bob, but only because of their “guilt” and their “causes” that they publicise. Believe me, if any of them were just private individuals they would be demonised.

  • Irenist

    “Catholic politicians should face actual canonical disciplines when they spit on obvious Church teaching.”
    This may stir the pot a bit, but I’m curious enough to throw this out to Mark and the group:
    If you think (as do I) that politicians who cause scandal by supporting abortion and gay “marriage” should in at least some circumstances be denied communion for that reason, do you think the same of politicians who cause scandal by advocating torture? If so, has any U.S. cleric actually done this? And if not, why not?
    (Apologies in advance if you’re a conservative reader and the question seems like a tu quoque–I admire our bishops immensely, and the question is sincere.)

    • ivan_the_mad

      I shouldn’t think that it matters what particular intrinsic evil is advocated. If it causes scandal, their bishop should act appropriately. Abortion and torture being intrinsic evils , I cannot foresee (with my admittedly limited knowledge) why advocacy of one could result in denial of Communion and not the other. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any bishop reprimanding a politician under their jurisdiction for advocacy of torture or even pre-emptive war, an ignorance of which I would be glad to be correct by the comboxeratti.

      That being said, and given how long Nancy Pelosi has been at it, I’m not going to expect a quick reprimand of any politician *cough* Santorum *cough* advocating torture although I certainly would hope for one.

      • Irenist

        “Abortion and torture being intrinsic evils”
        Indeed, that was pretty much why I picked torture. However objectionable capital punishment or plutocracy may be, they involve too many prudential questions for me to imagine any politician being rightly denied communion over them.

        • c matt

          The difficulty as I see it, is that I don’t know of any Catholic politicians that expressly advocate torture in the same way others do abortion. Not to say they on’t do it, but whereas a Biden or Pelosi outright admits they support abortion, a “pro-torture” catholic pol might simply say the methods he supports for interrogation are simply not torture (regardless of whether he is right on that). So where you get the Bidens and Pelosis clearly on record saying “I support abortion,” you don’t get that same clear record for pro-torture folks. At least, not where I can recall. But, if such a Catholic pol were to be found, I would hope/assume he’d get the same treatment.

          • ivan_the_mad

            Santorum on torture:

            “I disagree with Senator McCain’s view that the enhanced interrogation techniques used on a select few high-value terrorist detainees were unsuccessful nor do I believe they amounted to torture,” he said.

            Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0511/55140.html#ixzz28RMgP6pU

            • And therein lies the difference. He says he doesn’t believe those techniques were torture. Call him an idiot, a moron, a dolt, a loon, whatever, but he is basically saying not that he supports torture, but that he doesn’t feel the techniques used are torture. It would be similar to the abortion question if he said he believes it to be torture but still supports it. Then it would be the same as a politician who says that he knows what abortion is, agrees it is abortion, but still supports a woman’s right to have one.

              • ivan_the_mad

                Fair enough, Dave, that’s certainly one way to take what he said. I look at it the same I do a pro-abortion politician saying “It’s not a person so it’s not murder”.

                • ivan_the_mad

                  To clarify: Just because they don’t think they’re supporting murder doesn’t mean they aren’t supporting it. Similarly, just because Santorum doesn’t think he’s supporting torture doesn’t mean that he isn’t, because waterboarding is torture.

                • I see the difference in that the Church has said abortion is wrong, period. Define things as you will, abortion is wrong. With torture, the Church has made it clear that torture is wrong. But it has not defined every conceivable practice – perhaps an impossible thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think what was done was torture. I’m no interrogation expert, but it seems to my amateur mind to be torture, and I can’t help but scratch my head over those who say it wasn’t. But still, that is a difference. They’re not saying ‘it’s only torture because those tortured weren’t real people.’ They’re saying they don’t think – for some inexplicable reason – that what was done was torture. And unless the Church came out and said definitely ‘yes it was’, then there is still that room for doubt, or in the case of Communion, the benefit of the doubt. At least IMHO.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    Ah, I see what you mean more clearly. I think I can address that, from the USCCB: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/torture/action-steps-to-address-torture.cfm

                    “Enhanced interrogation techniques : This terminology, cited above by Father Massingale, undoubtedly represents the euphemism most frequently cited by commentators on the contemporary use of torture. And the second most frequently cited euphemism for torture is surely the extraordinary rendition of prisoners, meaning that the United States or its allies sends a prisoner into another nations custody for interrogation. Often, commentators point out, it is well known that these other nations practice torture.

                    But any terminology that waters down the reality of torture, or that masks its reality, may be a euphemism. Thus, sleep management might replace sleep deprivation, forcing prisoners to sit or stand in stress positions might mean forcing them to assume cruelly punishing postures for long periods.

                    Sometimes severe forms of interrogation are labeled abuse, rather than torture, apparently out of a sense that abuse somehow sounds less cruel. Some might say that a certain interrogation technique is tantamount to torture, as if to suggest that it is almost, but not quite, torture. And some commentators consider even the term waterboarding euphemistic a term that they say does not fully call to mind the reality of a simulated drowning.”

                    While it’s not a straightforward statement that waterboarding is torture, I certainly think you would not be amiss to infer such (above quote from Chap 4).

              • Confederate Papist

                I agree with you all regarding torture.

                I am a conservative and I am very happy to say the arguments over the many years I have visited this blog (thanks to Mark) have changed my opinion on the torture and “enhanced interrogation” bravo sierra. I am against it, the Church is against it, and that is good enough for me.

  • Richard Johnson

    A sincere question…have any Bishops, Archbishops or Cardinals suggested that those Catholic politicians who support torture should be denied communion? I’ve not heard of any, but that could simply be because I haven’t come across it yet. Has anyone heard of such, and if so, what has been the reaction to that call?

    • ivan_the_mad

      Richard, I can’t find a condemnation specific to your question, but searching “torture” on the USCCB website yielded this page among others: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/torture/

      Bishops have at least written to Congress regarding this. When looking for such condemnation, remember that the Church isn’t on the same schedule as cable news, and there’s a lengthy period (years usually) of admonition before such a public act of discipline.

  • c matt

    I think Gibson is just jealous because the US spends at least as much on its government buildings, and many of them look like crap.

    • Well, it’s taken more than a couple of thousand years for Rome to end up as it is. America hasn’t had that much time.

  • JQ Tomanek

    Yes, thank God we are not like those Communists that split families and separate fathers from mother/child or mothers from father/child, or control the population using propaganda to support killing innocent children, or support taking private property from one person and pandering it to a crony, or support a colletivistic media empire. Thank God those are *only* over there.

    • I don’t think you know what Communists actually do. I suggest a little Solghenitsin over your next holiday period.

  • Michael F.

    Great piece. Thanks for the defense of Holy Mother Church, Mark.

  • Scott W.

    At least Gibson got one thing right: Burke was not “kicked upstairs” as many of his detractors suggested when they weren’t busy spreading the salacious gossip that Bp. Martino didn’t really retire early for health reasons.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    “We’re a shining city on a hill, until somebody has a criticism; then we’re just one of many nations.”

  • Tom R

    Left unsaid in most of these “look at all the wealth the Vatican is sitting on” critiques is any sort of positive alternative. Yes, the collection may be “worth” X billion (in today’s money) because it cost that much to acquire. But it won’t necessarily be saleable for that amount. If broken up and sold separately, its value will depreciate. And who’s going to buy it? Either a small number of billionaires, or a large number of millionaires. Then it will be kept in a private collection rather than available for millions of tourists to enjoy.
    I guess there is always the option of simply destroying it, but imagine the MSM’s reaction if any identified Christian politician or church leader proposed to do a Moses/ Calvin on the accumulated artwork…. “Iconoclastic philistines would be one of the few printable responses.

  • Will

    “When did you get detail that they were speaking from their gilded office in the 18th century Capitol building ?”

    For one thing, Congressional offices are not in the Capitol.

    • Don’t obsess about the details. The best way to kill one myth is to replace it with another.

  • Hezekiah Garrett


    No one proposes elimunating the term marxist, but merely its misapplication. And marxism is predicated on that whole dialectic thing.

    In fact, 7 or 8 years ago when Mark and I first met, I was complaining about this same thing. I had suggesting removing nearly all government oversight of individuals in business, and taxing corporations into oblivion to fund single payer healthcare. I was called a marxist in these comment boxes. That was my objection to Mark then, that whole dialectic thang.

  • Stefano

    Pope Pius XI was mentioned by name on July 13, 1917 by Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima, “A worse one (war) will break out during the reign of Pius XI…”. I find it interesting that as a result of the Lateran Treaty, Pius XI recieved a mountain of money as compensation for surrender of the Papal States. Our Lady of the Rosary returned later that same year (1929) to formally request the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. Pius XI turned the lions share of that money over to one Bernadino Nogara who had but one request, that he be allowed to invest the money without any constraints whatsoever. In more recent times, the Vatican Bank has been involoved in scandal after scandal. On the one hand, we can discuss the patrimony of the Church, which is the legitimate collection of beatiful buildings and art created over the cenuries to give honor to God. On the other hand, there is a dark underbelly of Vatican financial dealings which began in 1929 and which defy mythical status.

    • As I understand it, the vast majority of the Vatican’s operating budget — such as it was — came from the interest generated by Nogara’s investments at least through the twin conclaves of 1978. Simply by leaving the story at 1929, with P11 turning the money over to Nogara, you’re doing both the Pope and Nogara an injustice. Granted that there have been financial shenanigans due to poor oversight along the way, the underbelly is really no darker than that of, say, Bear Stearns or Merrill Lynch.

      • Stefano

        “the underbelly is really no darker than that of, say, Bear Stearns or Merrill Lynch.”

        Did Merrill Lynch find anyone connected with them hanging from the Black Friars Bridge or Italian Judge after Italian Judge executed by the Mafia? I await your response.

        • Your ignorance of things Italian is less shameful than your claim to judge then. There was no connection between the Vatican and the Mafia, and the judges and other heroes who died at the hands of those monsters (most of whom were devout Catholics) had nothing to do with the Vatican except in the heated minds of a fringe of Italian Communist conspiracy theorists. Roberto Calvi was murdered by Franco di Carlo on the orders of Toto Riina because a vast amount of Mafia money had got lost in the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano; an ordinary Mafia murder for ordinary Mafia reasons – you can do a lot of things to the Mafia, but don’t touch their money. The rest is crap.

  • JMJ

    Mark Shea, at last I found something that I can agree with you, but, it amazes me just how short our memory spans are, as you are talking about one thing, and the comments that were posted are all over the universe and most don’t even closely come to your story. Oh, well, human nature, I suppose or is it “global warming” or high altitude, both of which Al Gore have created. +JMJ+

  • Gina Nakagawa

    Time for thinking people to put that silly legend of the Simple Honest American vs. the Scheming Vatican Octopus to bed.

    How about respectfully and firmly in the grave?!

  • When was the last time you got this sort of color commentary on any American politicians or businessman

    Businessman? Hardly ever, I admit. Businesswomen and female politicians, on the other hand, get that treatment all the time.

  • jason taylor

    Uh…we EXPECT businessmen to be rich and polititicians to be powerful. That’s kind of the point. And them showing off their splendor is comparatively harmless because they only claim to represent the Earth and it’s concerns. Churchmen doing so is a far more serious concern.

  • Graham Combs

    I would not care if bishops drove Bentley Continental GTs as golf carts if only the Church would recognize what time it is. Yet even in the latest moral and constitutional crisis their default position is legal action — the oxymoron of the 21st Century.