5. The money of the Vatican

One of the most repeated criticisms of the Church, especially in environments of low cultural level, is the one that refers to the money of the Vatican. Again, and again one hears that the Pope lives as a billionaire, surrounded by all kinds of luxuries, in a palace full of wonderful works of art. According to the enemies of the Church, this one has one of the largest fortunes in the world and spends his money to afford a level of unbridled life of luxury to their leaders. Compare this situation with which, they say, if today Jesus Christ returned, He would feel very uncomfortable in the Vatican, would give it up and go to live in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, to the slums of Argentina or to the newer towns of Lima.

Teaching of the Magisterium:

“To pursue its proper purposes, the Catholic Church by innate right is able to acquire, retain, administer, and alienate temporal goods independently from civil power. The proper purposes are principally: to order divine worship, to care for the decent support of the clergy and other ministers, and to exercise works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially toward the needy” (Code of Canon Law. Can 1254)

“The Church is certainly not afraid of the truth that emerges from history and is ready to acknowledge mistakes wherever they have been identified, especially when they involve the respect that is owed to individuals and communities. She is inclined to mistrust generalizations that excuse or condemn various historical periods. She entrusts the investigation of the past to patient, honest, scholarly reconstruction, free from confessional or ideological prejudices, regarding both the accusations brought against her and the wrongs she has suffered” (John Paul II, 1 september 1999).

 

“Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no “extravagance”, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the “large upper room”, she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery. In the wake of Jesus’ own words and actions, and building upon the ritual heritage of Judaism, the Christian liturgy was born. Could there ever be an adequate means of expressing the acceptance of that self-gift which the divine Bridegroom continually makes to his Bride, the Church, by bringing the Sacrifice offered once and for all on the Cross to successive generations of believers and thus becoming nourishment for all the faithful? Though the idea of a “banquet” naturally suggests familiarity, the Church has never yielded to the temptation to trivialize this “intimacy” with her Spouse by forgetting that he is also her Lord and that the “banquet” always remains a sacrificial banquet marked by the blood shed on Golgotha. The Eucharistic Banquet is truly a “sacred” banquet, in which the simplicity of the signs conceals the unfathomable holiness of God: O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur! The bread which is broken on our altars, offered to us as wayfarers along the paths of the world, is panis angelorum, the bread of angels, which cannot be approached except with the humility of the centurion in the Gospel: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof ” (Mt 8:8; Lk 7:6)” (John Paul II, ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’, nº 48).

 

“With this heightened sense of mystery, we understand how the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression not only in the demand for an interior disposition of devotion, but also in outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated. This led progressively to the development of a particular form of regulating the Eucharistic liturgy, with due respect for the various legitimately constituted ecclesial traditions. On this foundation a rich artistic heritage also developed. Architecture, sculpture, painting and music, moved by the Christian mystery, have found in the Eucharist, both directly and indirectly, a source of great inspiration.

Such was the case, for example, with architecture, which witnessed the transition, once the historical situation made it possible, from the first places of Eucharistic celebration in the domus or “homes” of Christian families to the solemn basilicas of the early centuries, to the imposing cathedrals of the Middle Ages, and to the churches, large and small, which gradually sprang up throughout the lands touched by Christianity. The designs of altars and tabernacles within Church interiors were often not simply motivated by artistic inspiration but also by a clear understanding of the mystery. The same could be said for sacred music, if we but think of the inspired Gregorian melodies and the many, often great, composers who sought to do justice to the liturgical texts of the Mass. Similarly, can we overlook the enormous quantity of artistic production, ranging from fine craftsmanship to authentic works of art, in the area of Church furnishings and vestments used for the celebration of the Eucharist?

It can be said that the Eucharist, while shaping the Church and her spirituality, has also powerfully affected “culture”, and the arts in particular”. (John Paul II. ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’, nº 49).

Argument:

The issue of money of the church, – expressed externally through their monumental temples and its works of art – is one of the most difficult to address in an argumentation of apologetics that is intended to be reasoned and reasonable. And it is not because it is difficult to justify the existence of that money or those temples and artistic treasures, but because those who attack the Church for that reason, show a great inability of reasoned logic, on an intellectual level, and that is why it is very difficult to talk to them, to give them reasons or arguments. The passion, often hate – and any attempt at dialog is doomed to failure because they only seek to do harm to the Church.

That does not mean that you cannot do or say anything. You can and you should. But be aware that this issue is difficult to face with serenity and objectivity. In fact, there are many people who are alienated from the Church and that, even criticize it for other things, but about this they make no objection.

The first thing to say is that Christ himself used money to live and helped himself in that way. While “hidden life”, he earned money with his own hands to make his livelihood and that of his Mother, the Blessed Virgin. Then, when he began his “public life”, no longer able to continue to do so, he accepted the donations that supported him. We know that there were women who helped him – one of them was non-other than the wife of the administrator of Herod, called Juana- and one who should handle a certain amount of capital, seen in their need as the appointed Treasurer – Judas, the traitor. After the Lord ascended, the custom of assisting the apostles in order that they would be released from work to dedicate themselves to evangelization continued to exist in the small Christian community. The Acts of the Apostles tell us, for example, the punishment received by those who cheated Saint Peter in the collection of alms. Saint Peter – who received economic aid several times from different communities – he was proud to have worked with his hands – he was a tent maker- in order to earn their daily bread, but recognizes that “the laborer is worthy of his wages” and that the evangelizers have the right to receive financial assistance from the community they serve. In fact, soon there was created the figure of the deacons, to devote themselves to the administration of goods and, in particular, to attend to the works of charity, so that the apostles and their successors, the bishops – could focus on evangelization.

Between the aid that was received included donations in kind and not only in cash. There was no shortage of members of the community who, in life, donated houses or lands, to celebrate Holy Mass or so, with revenues, could be meet the costs of the evangelization and the derivatives for the assistance to the poor. The Romans had to consider that the Church was very rich, because during one of the persecutions of Valentinian, in the year 258-, to the deacon Lawrence they promised to respect his life if he led them to where they were hiding the treasures of the Church; Lorenzo asked for three days to collect them and, after this time, he presented to the prefect of Rome a large number of the poor whom the Church was helping.

When the Church reached freedom, with the edict of Constantine in 313, the situation began to change rapidly. The prestige gained during the long years of persecution and the favor of the emperors, caused the Church to receive many donations, as much in money as in pagan temples that became Christian churches. Some of these temples still remain, such as the Saint Mary on Minerva, in the main square of Assisi. This situation continued during the Middle Ages, in which there was, in addition, another event of extraordinary importance. The brutality that occurred in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and the successive invasions of the barbarians, led to the Popes to try to create a territory under their obedience that would allow them to be safe from the pressures of the kings. Justinian I gave to the Pope, for the first time, civil rights on some territories (year 554). This was consolidated by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), which before had been the Prefect (the mayor) of the city. In 756, the king of France Pepin defeated the Lombards, who threatened Rome, at the request of the Pope Stephen II, and gave him ownership of the conquered territories. It will be these Territories which constitute the core of the so-called “Papal States”. In essence, they correspond to the current Italian regions of Lazio (with Rome as its capital), Umbria (whose capital is Perugia, which is next to Assisi), and the Marcas and the Romagna (with cities such as Bologna and Ravenna). The Pope was, therefore, king of a kingdom until the invasion of Garibaldi was dispossessed of these possessions in 1870. When this happened, the time was ripe where the Pope could continue to govern the universal Church with independence from the civil powers, whose threat and interference in the ecclesiastical government had not ceased since the beginnings of the Church.

Only by knowing these basic notions of history can one understand the reason why Vatican City exists (what is left of the Papal States and serves to ensure the independence of the pope and prevent him being under the control of any country), for which there is a large church as the Vatican City (built upon the tomb of St. Peter, to record the predominance that the Church of Rome was to have on the rest of the churches, because only in her is the Vicar of Christ) or why there are so many works of art in the Vatican Museum (the taste for art in the Italian Renaissance also affected the popes, who came from the main families of that country, such as the Medici family of Florence).

These are things of the past, certainly, but they are things that cannot be destroyed. In France is the Louvre, which, as well as other Museums, has its origin in the collections of paintings and art objects that made the successive kings for centuries. Should France sell what it contains and even the very building, for example, in order to help the workers in the slums of Paris? One may object that France, England, Austria and other nations with great palaces are rich and can do these social works without resorting to divesting its cultural heritage. Should Mexico sell the Teotihuacan pyramids of Tikal, Guatemala, Peru Machu Picchu or Cambodia the Angkor temple? Surely they will all say no, very boorish as they may be. What they should do – and this is what they usually do – is preserve them for future generations, and make them accessible to all. That is exactly what makes the Vatican that, even to my taste, is exceeded; if it were up to me, I would limit the number of tourists that come into the Basilica of St. Peter, because it is extremely difficult to pray in it; and if someone objects that they are doing it to earn money, it should be noted that the access to the Basilica is completely free. Further, if the Vatican decided one day to sell the Basilica and which contains the Museum, probably Italy would prevent it.

This solves, at least in part, the question of the great temples and of the artistic treasures which they contain – the result of another mentality, proper to the past, and now we can’t destroy them or sell them because they are the heritage of humanity. But, how to respond to the question of the so-called good life that the Pope has? One really needs very bad faith and a great deal of ignorance to make that claim. Nothing is further from the reality that to imagine a Pope of our time leading a life of luxury. It is true that lives in a palace – as I have already said that you cannot avoid being in the spotlight, and, on the other hand, he needs somewhere to live and the church offices need a large building for its headquarters, as would any institution that coordinates up to 1,200 million people around the world – but that does not mean living with luxuries. It is very austere, with a team of very small “servers”, reduced to some secretaries and “consecrated” – before they were nuns and today are women who belong to the Communion and Liberation movements- who take care of the house. His austerity is enormous and probably does not consume for himself half of what a middle-class person uses in Italy.

There is another issue, the money that the Vatican handles. It was disseminated by the scandals around the IOR -that is the name of the institution that invests the money of the Church, in the last part of Paul V’s reign. Some of the investments carried out in the wrong way by Monsignor Marcinkus endangered the finances of the Holy See. In any case, the same as in the previous question, it is clear that the Church needs to have the money to carry out her spiritual mission – Christ Himself did so. Another thing is that that money is the only money necessary, and that it is dedicated to those purposes. These two issues are more difficult to demonstrate, but in essence are met. The money from the Vatican comes, to a large extent, from that which the Italian State gave it when it signed the Concordat, as reparation for having deprived the Papal States. The rest comes from what the Dioceses of the world, as a contribution to the expenses of the church, for the benefit of those dioceses. There are years in which the economic balance is positive and others in which it is negative. With regard to the collection called “Peter’s Pence” – which is the 29 of June-, the Pope uses it for works of charity and does not spend a penny of it towards the costs of the bureaucratic machinery of the Church. The accusations that the Vatican is washed in black money derived from drug trafficking or other illegal sources, are as unfounded as slanderous: they cannot be proven, simply because they are false.

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