Is the Vatican a waste of money? Would Peter feel comfortable?

cq5dam-web-1280-1280One of the criticisms one often sees from non-Catholics is pointed toward the Vatican and all its “riches.”  Some wonder about all the good the Church could do if it didn’t have all this material stuff.  Other questions I’ve seen wonder about how comfortable Peter would have been in the Vatican.

“Think of all the good they could do”:

First, what good is the Catholic Church not doing?  The whole reason it exists is to spread the gospel to all nations and to ease the suffering of others.  Its whole existence is to feed people both spiritually and physically and it is doing these very things.

Is St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican a waste of money?

Some simple research reveals that the Vatican is actually not that wealthy.  The Vatican is a city-state with annual revenues of about $300 million which often goes into deficit.[i]  They not only maintain a government entity but house art in museums and maintain historical archives.  I believe, as most would, such cultural and historical preservation is important.  So the Vatican is actually doing quite a bit with the meager budget they have, in addition to being the head of a world-wide Church and giving to various charities.

To further the perspective, the Louvre in Paris has an annual budget of about $350 million.[ii]  Is anyone sitting outside the Louvre thinking, “If only they got rid of all this ‘stuff’ they could do so much good.”  The Louvre is doing good by doing exactly what it does; preserving culture and history.  Meanwhile, preserving culture and history is only one function of the Vatican but on the same budget as the Louvre.  So what exactly is being wasted?

To further the perspective even more, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and is now worth about $50 billion (yes, that’s with a ‘b’).  He made that by building a “social” networking site which is actually the antithesis of true society.  Some studies even show that it contributes to more depression and loneliness.[iii][iv]

If wealth is being squandered and not used for good, it is not the Vatican holding it back.

Finally, there are the simple, cold pragmatics of economics.  If the Church sold everything and gave it to the poor, it would feed a small fraction of the hungry for a day.  What will they eat tomorrow when they are hungry again?  Solving poverty and hunger requires long-term solutions but most people can only think in the short-term.  Initiatives like PovertyCure focus on long-term solutions to abolishing poverty, but such solutions are “boring” to most modern A.D.D. mentalities.

So what about the Vatican and the comfort of Peter?

Do I believe Peter would feel comfortable in a papal crown or living in the Vatican?  No, actually.  Nor do I believe most popes did or do feel comfortable.  For every Alexander VI there were probably far more like Celestine V.  Many—probably most—popes purposefully wore scratchy shirts underneath the expensive garments to keep themselves from getting too comfortable.

When the Pope Enters St. Peter’s for the coronation ceremony, he is greeted by a monk who blows out a candle—admonishing him not to forget that he is mortal like the rest of humanity.[v]

There is even a room in the Vatican called the Room of Tears.  It is where the newly elected Pope changes into papal vestments.  It is often accompanied by tears as the burden placed upon him is realized.  Because being Pope is actually not fun.

The Vatican and papal crown emerged from a time when people wanted to “see” their ruler and be proud of him.  They wanted him to look and act the part.  They wanted to hold him on a throne and walk through city streets receiving blessings from his hand—the very hand of the Vicar of Christ, ordained by God, and the hand of the direct successor of St. Peter himself to whom Our Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom (not the keys of the democracy).

Even in our modern “progressive” society we see inklings of such human needs to “see.”  I knew a doctor who drove a fancy car and wore very nice clothes.  He once told me if he didn’t people would not believe he was a good doctor.  If he drove a beat-up truck and wore t-shirts most would not take him seriously and they would find another physician.

It is telling that today the Pope does not typically wear the crown or be carried through the streets on a throne.  His garments are much more undistinguished than in days past.  Why?  Because the culture has largely changed.  The culture no longer cares for such finery and would probably only be distracted by it.

These are the opinions of a random blogger.

—————————-

Update January 12, 2017:  Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have vowed to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to charity.
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/02/technology/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-charity.html?_r=0

[i] CIA World Fact Book, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vt.html

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louvre#21st_century

[iii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/04/08/new-study-links-facebook-to-depression-but-now-we-actually-understand-why/#1d4f6e342e65

[iv] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/04/facebook-envy_n_6606824.html

[v] “Liberty or Equality” by Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, page 185

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2 thoughts on “Is the Vatican a waste of money? Would Peter feel comfortable?

  1. I would just like to comment that the pomp, glitter and expensive clothing worn by Popes has to do with the office of the papacy not the person of the pope. Wearing these symbols rather than an act of arrogance is an act of humility to those who recognize the weight of the office.

    I was personally uneasy when P. Francis rejected certain “pomps” such as the mozzetta; because these are symbols of the authority of the office of pope. Rejection of putting on signs of authority is suggestive of rejection of responsibility or denial of having those authorities. (not that I’m passing judgment on motives or anything; there are just implications, intended or not, to doing things with symbols)

    • Hi bgpery! Sorry for this late response. I don’t log in here very often anymore.

      Very good point that the “pomp” is about the office and not about the man. Almost nothing to do with the papacy has much to do with the man himself. Much the same with bishops. In Acts 1:20 Peter said “His office let another take” because the office still existed even though the man originally inhabiting it was gone. But the office continued.

      I go back-and-forth in my mind regarding modern popes shedding some of the pomp. It seems that it would be a distraction to most people today. It goes completely against our modern tendencies. I know when I was first looking into Catholicism, seeing videos of a pope being carried on a throne was disconcerting. It was only after enough time and discussions with friends that I slowly began to understand why it was done in the first place. (An ambassador to another country doesn’t go in t-shirt and jeans. The ambassador ought to represent his country well.) But how many people put that much time and energy into trying to understand, not to mention actually accepting it? Most will simply say “Who does he think he is?” and move on with life believing the pope is a douche and put no more thought into it. It seems that Catholicism, much like Paul, strives to “become all things to all men” in order to save some (1 Cor. 9:22). If the excessive pomp is too distracting to the modern culture, well then it sheds some of that in order to not put people off from the start.

      On the other hand, the more our culture descends into its own filth, the more beauty and pageant we may need to call people higher. The more anarchic the culture becomes the more it will crave structure and something visible and beautiful to rally around. Perhaps someday the pageantry of the pope could very likely be what draws lost people in.

      Thankfully, I am not the pope and do not need to make those judgement calls. I simply need to trust that God is still using the office to be His beacon and He will work all things out for good.

      God bless!

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