May 22, 2013
Bonnie Erbe, To the Contrary Host
Just about everything about Pope Francis rings true. A mere two months into his papacy he has shed many of the Church's gaudy and inapt symbols of materialism and returned the philosophical focus of the Church to where Jesus Christ would have wanted it to be: on the poor. Banished to the closets of the Vatican are his predecessors' ornate Renaissance vestments along with an assortment of un-Christ-like ostentatious adornments including a solid gold crucifix.
Pope Francis spends little or no time in the chambered papal apartment which is filled with princely, museum-quality furniture. He prefers the more humble surroundings of a communal setting in a Vatican residence where he leads early morning Mass.
This month he also delivered a series of public pronouncements that have some radical anti-capitalist theologians salivating over his views on money and international finance. He told a small audience of Ambassadors to the Vatican that free-market capitalism had created a “tyranny” and that human beings were being valued purely as consumers, not as real people. According to Britain's Telegraph, Pope Francis told his audience money should be made to “serve” people, not to “rule” them and called for a more ethical financial system and curbs on financial speculation. He urged national governments to impose more control over their economies and to end “absolute autonomy” (of the free market) and instead to provide “for the common good.”
I agree with Pope Francis on this line of thinking in many respects. I part company with him when he sees corporations as comprised entirely of evil-doers. I appreciate what corporations have done to create employment. But I utterly adore the fact that he, unlike his predecessors, is pointing out what commercialism and materialism have done to warp people’s values and turn them into monster consumers.
I fault him, however, for failing to mention, as he rails against mega corporations, that he happens to run one of the wealthiest organizations in the world. In March of this year, NationalPost.com published an article with the headline, “Wealth of Roman Catholic Church impossible to calculate.” It went on to list some of the priceless real estate the church owns in Vatican City. The list includes the Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world erected over the supposed burial site of the apostle St. Peter, the first bishop of Rome.
Beyond that, the Church is one of the largest land-owners in the world. It owns 716,290 square kilometers across the globe and the Vatican embassies, churches, cathedrals, monasteries, schools and convents on that land. Then there’s the Vatican’s metric ton of gold, as well as close to almost a hundred million dollars per year in parish donations.
One more troubling fact faults the honesty of Pope Francis’ anti-corporate rant. The church owns billions of dollars (at least 10 and probably much more) in stock in foreign corporations in such industries as banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction and real estate. National Post is quick to note that the Church, “only invests in companies that operate according to Catholic morals. For example, it will not invest in a pharmaceutical company that produces birth control.”
Ah, so morality is tantamount when it comes to quashing poor women’s access to birth control. But it’s fine for this Pope to question the greed of multinational corporations, even though he keeps many of those same greedy companies in the church’s portfolio.
This is the part of Pope Francis that does not, at least so far, ring true. I’d like to see him divest the church’s portfolio of any corporate stock he might see as controlled by “evil” capitalists. I’d like to see him the proceeds of selling that stock toward feeding, clothing and providing housing for the poor people he so adores. Then Pope Francis and all the enthusiasm and energy he brings to his papacy would ring true in all respects.