Several times recently I’ve had people speak to me about “the wealth of the Vatican”, either implying it’s wrong for the Church to have money or just openly condemning it. It is declared that it is hypocritical and somehow contrary to the teaching of Jesus. A lot could be said on this subject, but I would just like to briefly make a few points…
The Vatican and Harvard Comparison
The wealth of the Vatican is more of a myth than a reality. The operating budget is a little under $300 million. This is minuscule when one considers the operating budgets of other institutions. Harvard University (“the Vatican of elite secular opinion”), in contrast, is over ten times that, clocking in at $3.7 billion. Likewise, the Vatican’s patrimony is roughly $1 billion whereas Harvard’s is thirty times that, at $30.7 billion.
Sell the art!
But what about all the art in the churches and museums of the Vatican? The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years and during that time the Church has both commissioned and been gifted with stupendous works of art. It is not unusual to hear celebrities, as well as random people in the pub, to declare that the Vatican should just sell all of it…
Aside from the fact that, if this were to happen, many of the artifacts would be bought by private collectors and never see the public light of day again, this actually isn’t even possible! Due to a treaty with the Italian government, the Vatican isn’t allowed to sell or borrow against these great works of art. Furthermore, the EU wouldn’t let such a thing happen anyway, since they would see the art as part of the patrimony of the Italian people and therefore mustn’t be sold. Because of this, rather amusingly, each piece of art is listed on the books as having a value of 1 euro each…
To those Christians of other denominations who make similar complaints, I point them to the Bible where it describes the splendor of Solomon’s Temple. The Temple, like Churches, are meant to show something of the glory of God, to raise the minds of the worshipers Heavenward. We give our best to God because He is worth it.
Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment…
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” – John 12:3-5
I would suggest that if we find ourselves speaking like Judas Iscariot we might pause for thought…
Poverty in the Church
Additionally, we have always had monks and nuns who take vows of poverty and live in the simplest of conditions. As I mentioned the other day, my friend Jenna will soon be entering the convent to look after terminal cancer patients who don’t have insurance (thanks to everyone who donated, she hit her target!).
Finally, I have to admit that I get a bit irritated when people complain about how the Catholic Church spends her money. Every day the Catholic Church feeds and clothes more people than any other institution on the planet. It has done this for 2,000 years. Maybe when there’s a secular institution which does the same it can offer the Catholic Church some advice.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:5
Doesn’t it seem somewhat ridiculous to complain about what the Church, the largest charitable organization in the world, does with its money?