One 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.
[i] CIA World Fact Book, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vt.html
[v] “Liberty or Equality” by Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, page 185