Humble Beginnings, Proud Endings

Can someone explain to me how you look at the Roman Catholic Church as a poor church for the poor? It’s as if Roman Catholicism was the Italian version of the Amish, and oh, isn’t so remarkable how different those believers live, how unattached they are to worldly things, how unencumbered they are by maintaining large institutions and edifices.

Has anyone been to Rome? 1362057705627

What set me off today was a piece about the humble homes in which John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis grew up. Fine. They may have had humble origins, but did the live on the streets of Rome outside Vatican City while occupying the office of pope? If indeed the papacy is an office, which it is, and the office transcends the man, then the phrase “papal apartment” should go with the residence of the Bishop of Rome, not the family residence back in the day of the man who occupies the office.

And to add a few pounds-per-square-inch to my tight jaws, Vatican News reported — aren’t journalists supposed to ask hard questions — gleefully Francis’ speech in which he distinguishes the common good from prosperity:

Francis then explained the difference between common good and prosperity. “It is so easy for us to become accustomed to the atmosphere of inequality all around us, with the result that we take it for granted. Without even being conscious of it, we confuse the ‘common good’ with ‘prosperity’, especially when we are the ones who enjoy that prosperity. Prosperity understood only in terms of material wealth has a tendency to become selfish, to defend private interests, to be unconcerned about others, and to give free rein to consumerism. Understood in this way, prosperity, instead of helping, breeds conflict and social disintegration; as it becomes more prevalent, it opens the door to the evil of corruption, which brings so much discouragement and damage in its wake.”

Again, what about consumerism in Rome, Vatican Museum shops, the postcards at the Vatican post office? Or what about the inequality between Vatican City and its residential neighbors? Or what about your own material well-being, and the fact that people treat the pope like royalty (which the popes themselves cultivated)? I understand that Pope Francis is trying to do without the papal grandeur. But is he flying coach?

If you don’t see that you may stand implicated in your own words, isn’t that a sign of limousine liberalism?


32 thoughts on “Humble Beginnings, Proud Endings

  1. Another meaning to poor church:

    The most recent Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which the Vatican published a few months ago, charts a steady decline in the ordination of diocesan priests in Latin America between 2008 and 2013. While such ordinations in the United States have increased ever so slightly over the same period of time, the numbers have been not even close to sufficiently replace priests who have died, retired or left the active ministry, especially as the church has added millions of new members over the past several years.

    Will Pope Francis address the vocations problem during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay? Most of the secular and faith-based media have so far been more interested in fleshing out the perhaps more enticing narrative of the “pope of the poor” taking his message to those on the margins in Latin America, especially the indigenous population. And this is good.

    But the vocations shortage has become an acute crisis almost everywhere except, perhaps, in Africa. But the situation is uneven there, too.

    The Argentine pope knows there is a serious problem, yet he has insisted that even worse than ordaining too few priests is ordaining bad ones. On a number of occasions, he has criticized bishops and religious communities for accepting candidates who are unbalanced or have been “expelled from other seminaries” and then trying to justify this irresponsible decision under the guise that “they need priests.”


  2. Vicar of Christ.

    Francis has brought in some of the biggest brand names in the world of business. KPMG is implementing uniform, internationally accepted accounting standards to replace the Vatican’s previous crazy quilt of bookkeeping. EY (the former Ernst & Young) is scrutinizing management of the Vatican’s stores, utilities, and other municipal services. Deloitte & Touche now audits the accounts at the Vatican bank. And Spencer Stuart has recruited top management talent from around the globe. Heading the effort to restructure media operations, assisted by McKinsey & Co., is Lord Christopher Patten, a former head of the BBC and the last British governor of Hong Kong.


  3. Wow.

    For financial purposes, the Vatican operates two quasi-independent entities, one for each of its two functions: operating as a nation and serving as the sprawling staff that supports the pope. The city state, or governorate, operates the Vatican’s commercial services. It resembles a medium-size municipal government. The city state has excellent sources of revenue. It garners about $130 million a year, and rising, from the thriving Vatican museums, home of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. And each year tourists purchase around 2.2 million euro-denominated collector coins at its gift shops.

    Last year the city state spent around $332 million and collected $377 million, for a “profit” of $45 million. It posts substantial surpluses most years. But that money usually isn’t available to fund the struggling part of the Vatican. The governorate frequently uses its excess cash to bolster the underfunded pension plan and needs to accumulate reserves to expand the museum and refurbish buildings.

    The problem resides in the curia, officially known as the Holy See. The Holy See consists of many sections that spend heavily but offer little or no income. Vatican Radio, which broadcasts the pope’s readings and masses, as well as the Vatican’s news, has 330 employees and spends $37 million a year yet collects less than $1 million in advertising. Its deficit is so deep that the city state now covers half the shortfall. Operating the embassies, called apostolic nunciatures, in 113 nations runs over $30 million.

    Almost two-thirds of the Holy See’s budget goes to paying salaries, benefits, and pensions for its 2,886 employees. (Including the city state, the Vatican has a workforce of 4,822.) The Vatican pays relatively low wages but offers generous health and retirement benefits. Cardinals and bishops at the congregations and councils often toil for as little as $46,000 a year, though their housing is heavily subsidized. The rank and file, including nuns and priests, are also paid below market, but make it up in benefits. The average salary for lower- to mid-level workers is around $28,000 a year. That’s about 25% less than the $37,800 average for Italian workers with similar private sector jobs. But keep in mind that Vatican employees pay no income taxes. Today around three-quarters of the Vatican’s employees are lay workers, vs. less than half 25 years ago. Vatican lay employees have jobs for life, and virtually no one leaves before retirement age.

    For 2013 the Holy See posted revenues of $315 million and expenses of $348 million, for a $33 million deficit. Since 2007 the total shortfalls have totaled $56 million. Those figures actually understate the size of the Holy See’s financial problems. The current spending number is due to rise sharply for a pressing need: taming big pension liabilities. It’s a problem the Vatican shares with virtually every Western economy. The Vatican inaugurated a generous defined-benefit pension plan in the early 1960s but didn’t have an actual pension fund until three decades later.


  4. Wowest.

    The Vatican is often assumed to possess great wealth, but if it were a company, its revenue wouldn’t come close to making Fortune 500. Its total operating budget is about $700 million. in 2013 it posted a small overall surplus of $11.5 million. The Vatican’s most valuable assets—some of the world’s great art treasures—are virtually priceless and not for sale. A breakdown of major holdings:

    Investments: Portfolio of stocks, bonds, and gold worth $920 million.
    Real estate: Holdings have an estimated value of $1.35 billion, including some 2,000 apartments, mostly in Rome.
    Vatican Bank: Book value of $972 million.
    Art collection: Worth untold billions. The Vatican’s museum brings in $130 million a year in revenue. Treasures include the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo (above); “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness,” a painting by Leonardo da Vinci; “Deposition From the Cross,” a painting by Caravaggio; a letter from Marie Antoinette en route to the guillotine; and the papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther.

    How many championships have the Yankees won? How many converts draw comfort from being big?


  5. It really is hypocritical for the pope to be lambasting free-market capitalism in the name of Christ while he sits on untold treasures. But somehow everyone gives them a pass.


  6. Which suggests, DGH, that they no longer sell indulgences because they simply don’t have the need.


  7. times sure have changed and Paul, (who did not use his right to cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ) would be amazed… sure if one sows spiritual things in you, it is not too much if one reap material things from you (1 Cor 9:11-12) …. but …sheesh


  8. What you write here makes me want to wretch. I do not understand you. The secularists are ready to go in for the kill, and you continue to rail against the Catholic Church. Sick.


  9. Not so poor church for the poor.

    Other sources of income included contributions from dioceses around the world, which gave 21 million euro in 2014, down from 22 million the previous year. The Vatican bank, which donates profits from its investments to the pope to support works of charity and mission around the world, contributed 50 million euros, like past years.

    The largest single item in the Holy See budget was “personnel.” The number of employees stayed relatively the same at 2,880 with total personnel costs being 126.6 million euros, an increase of more than 1 million euros from 2013.

    The Vatican City State budget, which includes the income-generating Vatican Museums and Vatican stamp and coin office, ended 2014 with a profit of more than 63.5 million euros — nearly double the previous year’s surplus of 33 million euros.

    No personnel costs were given in the summarized report of the 1,930 total staff members who come under the Vatican City State budget.


  10. A different kind of poverty.

    The most recent Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which the Vatican published a few months ago, charts a steady decline in the ordination of diocesan priests in Latin America between 2008 and 2013. While such ordinations in the United States have increased ever so slightly over the same period of time, the numbers have been not even close to sufficiently replace priests who have died, retired or left the active ministry, especially as the church has added millions of new members over the past several years.

    Will Pope Francis address the vocations problem during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay? Most of the secular and faith-based media have so far been more interested in fleshing out the perhaps more enticing narrative of the “pope of the poor” taking his message to those on the margins in Latin America, especially the indigenous population. And this is good.

    But the vocations shortage has become an acute crisis almost everywhere except, perhaps, in Africa. But the situation is uneven there, too.

    When will the Callers get the call?


  11. Is the pope considering a move to the Salone camp?

    Francis goes deeper than explanation, well beyond mere tolerance. And this, perhaps, is what makes us nervous here in the First World, the developed world, the rich North. This pope is not ideological or partisan. He is radical in the most essential sense — going to the root of things. It can’t be overstated that an indispensable part of his formation occurred steeped in the “storms of people’s lives” in the slums around Buenos Aires, Argentina. These are not places where one meets perfect nuclear Catholic families. These are not places of investment portfolios, career ladders, elegant dinners and heady intellectual conversation. These are not places that influence a country’s economic or military policies. But they are his starting point, the first lens through which he views the rest of the world.

    Those who wish to define Catholic orthodoxy by a narrow list of sexual sins are inclined to describe themselves as countercultural, fighting the mighty forces of secularism. Come September and Francis’ visit, we all are likely to be shaken to our roots by a much-expanded definition of Catholic orthodoxy and a far more demanding idea of what it means to be countercultural in the United States.

    “You, dear brothers and sisters, often work on little things, in local situations, amid forms of injustice which you do not simply accept but actively resist,” he told the community activists in Bolivia. He was applauding them and their heroic work for “standing up to an idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills.”


  12. Does Pope Francis need to visit Cologne?

    Tebartz-van Elst, a strict conservative cleric who was fined for lying under oath about another scandal concerning a first-class flight he took to India, was able to spend so much money without supervision because he took most of it from a special unreported fund that many German bishops have at their disposal.

    These reserves, known as the Bischoeflicher Stuhl (“bishop’s chair”), are diocesan nest eggs that are neither taxed nor mentioned in the annual financial reports where dioceses list how much they receive in revenues, donations and the special German church tax on parishioners.

    Richer dioceses — usually in western Germany — have age-old properties, donations from former princely rulers and revenues from real estate investments tucked away in these funds that only the bishop and a few advisers have access to. Dioceses in the former communist eastern states have much less to fall back on.

    Before the Limburg uproar, only two of Germany’s 27 dioceses had revealed how much wealth was hidden in their reserves. Many didn’t even have full records, or undervalued their holdings because they never had to report them. But under pressure from the “bling” scandal, they slowly began publishing reports of their overall wealth.

    Cologne, long reputed to be Germany’s richest diocese, revealed in February 2015 an overall worth of 3.35 billion euros ($3.7 billion), more than the Vatican’s known wealth at the time. (New Vatican financial standards have since uncovered over 1 billion euros that were previously undeclared.) Its “bishop’s chair” held 166.2 million euros ($181.8 million) in 2012.

    Limburg said that its “bishop’s chair,” which provided most of the funds Tebartz-van Elst spent, was worth 92.5 million euros ($101.2 million) at the end of 2013.


  13. Where is the Bishop of Rome’s compassion for the Romans?

    Pope Francis is shunning the expansive papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo for the third time since 2013, a choice that is causing frustration among locals who rely on the tourists a papal visit brings.

    Stefano Carosi tidies the glasses lining his coffee bar in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town southeast of Rome, awaiting his absent clientele.

    “Of course it’s affected business,” he said, reflecting on Pope Francis’ decision to stay away from the town. Bar Carosi has stood in Castel Gandolfo’s main square since 1870, in the shadow of the Apostolic Palace, which popes have used as their summer residence for centuries.

    That all changed with the papacy of Pope Francis, who for his third summer as pontiff has chosen to remain at the Holy See. His decision has been interpreted as part of the pope’s broader wish to create a “poor Church” and push through his ambitious reform agenda, rather than while away his time at the summer palace.

    Sometimes the rich church (Apostolic Palace anyone?) has to step up for the middle class.


  14. Pope-mobile liberalism:

    The Vatican conference was organized to follow up on the papal encyclical Laudato Si’. So were the organizers looking for sympathetic politicians, who were known to share the views of Pope Francis on key public issues? Not likely; among the American participants, Governor Brown and Mayors di Blasio and Walsh (all baptized Catholics) all favor legal abortion on demand and same-sex marriage. They are clearly not in sympathy with the pro-life message woven through the encyclical.

    Yes, all three of those American politicians agree with the Pope about the scientific case for climate change. Governor Brown thinks that skeptics about climate change should be dismissed as troglodytes. (It’s enlightening that Brown, who is so very certain on that issue, isn’t sure whether or not he wants to be described as a Catholic.)

    To be fair, most big-city mayors in the US are Democrats. If the Vatican just issued invitations to the mayors of the largest 20 or 30 cities in the country, the results would no doubt produce a Democratic majority. But if the conference organizers wanted to maintain at least a semblance of political balance, they might have stretched a bit, to include a few American politicians who were not big-city mayors. After all, they included Governor Brown.

    Unfortunately, we have good reason to believe that the organizers were not interested in political balance. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which sponsored the event, is led by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who demonstrated a shocking ignorance of American political realities in a June statement suggesting that oil corporations, through the Tea Party, are stirring up opposition to Vatican initiatives. Insofar as Bishop Sanchez Sorondo dismissed the concerns of pro-lifers about the political alliances he is forming, it would not be surprising that he sees no point in reaching out to Republican politicians who might wish to work with the Vatican.


  15. DG –

    Re: Cologne

    Of the 3.35b euros, 1/3rd is hard (mostly property) and 2/3 non-tangible investments (so roughly 2.2b). If these non-tangible investments are compared to a US university endowment, it would barely make the top 40. Harvard has over 12 times as much.

    Cologne took in 573m in the gov-imposed “church tax.” Note that the “Church Tax” is more a Germanic thing than a Catholic thing- from Switzerland to Iceland, 1-2% of income. Lutherans and Calvinists “benefit” from it as well.

    By 2k theology, what’s worse – a national church (Presbyerian Church of Scotland), state church (Church of England), having the authorities distribute tax money to churches (Germanic system), state ownership of church property (France, Italy), or a legal system acknowledging church authority in defining morality as the basis of law (not sure who still does this)?


  16. DG – the former papal states

    Been to Ferrara? I’ll take it over Glasgow any day.

    Or even Zurich – no matter Zurich’s high standard of living and my 6-generation-back Swiss Reformed family ties.

    Although it appears Zurich has for some time had more Catholics than Reformed (possibly more atheists than either).

    [R]ecent debates among Early Modernists have produced the view that ‘confessionalization’, that is the formation of three or four modern church systems based on specific confessions of faith, was one of the most influential factors in producing the fundamental changes that occurred between 1550 and 1650 in Europe.

    This had a huge effect on the cities of Europe and their inhabitants. This paper compares Catholic and Protestant cities in Europe around 1600 with regard to their specific architecture and their religious and civic rituals.

    Wish I could read more than the abstract – I’m not in the academia club, unfortunately.


  17. D. G. Hart
    Posted August 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
    Kevin, there you go, waving the Yankees pennants. Whatever happened to poor church for the Glaswegians?

    Why not help him out accessing the paper, Dr. Hart? The man is searching for truth.


  18. Dg-

    You have a counter-argument (which I admittedly tried to forestall with the Zurich religious demos)-

    Zurich was a Calvinist city for centuries (I don’t know that this is true, but suspect it is)- its social order and economic success combined with a high level of culture- practically unparalled in Europe- can as fairly be attributed to its religion as Ferrara’s can to the RCC.

    Further, the Catholics came late to the city, and whatever benefits individuals brought, they were building on what was already present. Something like half the Catholics there aren’t even Swiss citizens.

    And what does Ferrara really have on Zurich? How could a city be much more succesful than Zurich in this life?

    Finally, paralleling Glasgow and Ferrara is hardly fair. Ferrara was at the center of Europe’s trade paths when it was being built- which, by the way, was quite a long time ago (what have you done lately except provide socialist theorists?). Glasgow was a fringe city in the European context, and specifically one which grew on trade with the colonies / US. At least pick fair parallels.

    And what’s the problem with Glasgow anyway?

    I’m not fully convinced, but it’s a decent argument, no? Really, what impact did the switch to Reformed religion hhave where it was firmly entrenched for centuries on city life? Where is the Reformation strongest today- does it dominate any cities in a relatively pure (‘strict subscriptionist’?) form?


  19. Kevin, it seems to me the question is what happens to Christianity post Constantine. How does religion fare when the magistrate no longer patronizes it (post 1789)? At that point, it’s not so much cities or polities as demographics. How many people in the citizenry are Christian or Protestant or Reformed or Methodist and do demographics in a democratic society wind up shaping that society in some sense? Indonesia is less than 10% Christian and plus 80 % Muslim. The U.S. is just the reverse. I suspect that some of the differences between Indonesia and the U.S. owe to percentages of the population even though both have been part of the developments of colonialism and imperialism.

    Your question has much more to do with the situation between 1550 and 1750 when confessional states still existed. But we’re not there now (even though plenty of modern Protestants and Roman Catholic pine for golden ages).


  20. DG-

    it’s not so much cities or polities as demographics

    It makes me wonder why systematic polling wasn’t invented much earlier.

    But are there still urban or rural areas of Europe where strict subscriptionists exist in relatively high numbers or densities? The Netherlands, Southeast Germany, Switzerland, Hungary? Or has the Reformed religion in these countries gone at least partly the way of PCUSA?

    At the very least, are there any European Universities or other institutions you would say stays faithful to the 3 Forms of Unity?

    Are there any specific larger religious bodies in this category, perhaps with a significant educational presence? The Econe (where the SSPX’s HQ is located) of the Reformed, if you like.

    And does ‘strict subscriptionist’ indicate NAPARC but exclude PCUSA on grounds of, well, observancy?


  21. Kevin, modernity changes everything. I don’t know enough about Europe to give examples.

    But I would ask you to consider that Protestant colleges that are generally conservative are far more Protestant than Roman Catholic universities are Roman Catholic. Why is it that the latter hire non-Roman Catholics? Hiring RC’s at evangelical colleges is unheard of.

    The point is not to assert Protestant superiority. It is to suggest how much modernity (and the university is a very modern institution) affects “tradition” religion.


  22. Tourism back in the day.

    Most people today ooh-and-aah when they experience or envision a trip to Rome.
    It was not always so. Until the era of modern tourism, trips to Rome were rare, undertaken only by the wealthy. For devout Protestants, encountering Catholicism’s Eternal City could often induce more revulsion than admiration. Prior to Italian unification in the 1860s-1870s, the Pope ruled as temporal monarch over Rome and the surrounding Papal States, a huge slice of Italian geography. Lurid stories of the Inquisition’s torture chambers, descriptions of shameful acts in convents and monasteries, and condemnations of a putatively pervasive pharisaical legalism were all staples of Protestant polemical travel literature.


  23. Underground Pilgrim is not buying poor church for the poor:

    Some might attempt to argue the Pope represents a veritable power that is projected in poverty, divorced from the influence of money. But they would be wrong. While Francis has tried to wrap the Papacy in a shroud of humility and has spoken out on behalf of the poor, the reality is he would have no voice at all if it were not for the financial and political power his organization wields.

    The Roman Catholic organization is very rich, powerful and influential. Some might think it is at its nadir in terms of power and influence and when viewed historically. But this is not so. Granted its power is different today than it was in the 19th century or even the 15th century, but in different ways it still holds a great deal of wealth and the ability to project influence. This is not equal in all places, not even in all ostensibly ‘Catholic’ countries.

    It must be granted the Papacy has fallen when compared to the 11th through 13th centuries when it was quite literally the master of Europe toppling kings and launching massive wars.

    Yet, if the Pope were a teacher or leader resting on pure doctrinal or moral authority then he would appear like a visiting guru, maybe drawing some crowds, even impressive ones. But he wouldn’t be receiving the red carpet, meeting with political leaders and practically compelling them to shut down city blocks and provides armies of security etc…

    The Roman Catholic organization has controlling interests in numerous large corporations and works politically through many channels, organizations and sects under its umbrella.

    The Papacy is a fascinating institution to say the least and while many perceive this Pope as some kind of liberal or champion of the Left, I would argue they have misunderstood him. His presentation and style are very different from his predecessors. He’s attempting to reform the bureaucracy within the Vatican. It is too early to tell if this will prove successful. But doctrinally he represents traditional positions and the same kind of social power and vision represented in his predecessors. The American Right’s understanding of politics and economics have become so restricted that anything outside the pale of extreme Neoliberal Capitalism and in many cases Militaristic Imperialism is immediately decried as Marxist.

    These extremes cannot continue. The Right has intellectually boxed itself in and is setting itself on a course that can only lead to political violence.

    The Pope is a captivating figure to be sure but he would be nothing apart from the power of the massive organization that he reigns over. He may hug the poor and present himself as humble, but remember his claims are the most boastful and blasphemous of perhaps any on this earth. He claims to be the Vicar of Christ, His representative on Earth and to speak with His voice.

    He may ‘seem’ Christ-like in his interactions with the people but unlike any true teacher resting on divine and moral authority he travels about with teams of armed men and his words to politicians carry a veiled threat of financial, political and social power. These statements are also applicable to Dobson, Falwell and other Christian Right leaders who have also traveled around with armed security and use money as a weapon to threaten the political status quo. What would Paul say to them? They are wholly different creatures to be sure.

    While he does not wield the overt political power of some leaders, they all will pause and listen to his words. Everyone remembers Poland in the 1980’s and the role of the Vatican in numerous governmental administrations, civil wars and insurgencies from Spain to Latin America and even parts of Asia and Africa. Roman Catholicism is at its very heart a Sacralist organization pursuing a vision of social monism.

    Like all Sacralist theological paradigms, Rome rejects the inherent Kingdom duality presented in Scripture. Like its Dominionist allies on the Protestant front it explicitly repudiates Christ’s proclamations that the Kingdom is not of this world, and that the realms of Caesar and Christ are neither compatible nor complimentary.

    He is certainly more influential than the head of the UN an organization many seem far more disturbed about. The UN an object of terror to many on the Right is a wholly impotent bureaucracy and the General-Secretary is an object of scorn and ridicule.


  24. So it’s a poor church because its annual budget is half Notre Dame’s and its banks assets are only in the billions:

    1. The dollar amounts involved are strikingly low. Combining the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy of the global Church, and the Vatican City State, which runs the 108-acre physical space, the annual budget for the Vatican is around $700 million.

    For a frame of reference, the University of Notre Dame’s operating budget for 2014-2015 is $1.5 billion – which means the Fighting Irish by themselves could fund the Vatican twice, and still have money left over for new football uniforms.

    The Vatican Bank, to take another case, controls just under $9 billion in assets, which is nobody’s idea of chump change. By the standards of major commercial banks, however, it’s small potatoes. J.P. Morgan, for instance, controls an astronomic $2 trillion.

    Yes, there’s real money involved, but the Vatican isn’t a financial colossus.



  25. Even the poor church for the poor has to worry about laying off its own staff and calculates accordingly:

    Becciu also referred to the controversy over Peter’s Pence, an annual collection to support the pope that is billed as a way to support papal charities. Today, of every $10 collected, only $2 goes to charity, while $6 goes to fund the Church government and the rest is saved for a rainy day.

    “Do we want to use $6 for charity instead of $2? Then of the Vatican’s 4,000 employees, we should immediately lay off 400,” Becciu told the Italian weekly Panorama. “We prefer not to add this extra weight to the Italian government and to stick to Pope Francis’ recommendation: Reform, but without leaving anyone out of work.”

    Poor church for the poor has to pay the bills just like those greedy capitalists.


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