October 5, 2011

The Vatican, in perspective

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ...
[that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs ..."
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

"Lucifer, with a great number of demons,
will be unchained from hell.
By degrees they shall abolish the faith,
even among persons consecrated to God."
Our Lady of La Salette

The main altar at St. Peter's Basilica
The Roman Catholic Church has endured - and will endure - every crisis. However, a relentless barrage of attacks has been assaulting the Church in recent years.

In China, for example, the government now pretends it can name its own Catholic bishops, as if communists would do a better job. In Ireland - perhaps the most Catholic of countries in the past - open revolt against the Church is at full throttle. Also, a major Catholic hospital in Italy may be on the verge of financial collapse, thanks to negligent or, possibly, criminal mismanagement. Finally, in decades past, a tiny minority of horrible clerics have committed sexual and financial crimes and indiscretions that have brought embarrassment to the world's foremost champion of human rights and equality.

 Let me be clear: once proven, no Catholic wants to give a pass on such horrendous crimes. As far as I am concerned, lock them up and throw away the key.

However, even though the natural inclination of lawyers and journalists is to find fault with a "deep pocket" individual* or celebrity rather than the guilty party, it is important to keep things in perspective.

The Vatican is widely misunderstood, according to a recent article from Canadian Catholic News titled Veteran Rome Reporter Blasts Vatican Myths. Here are a few facts that clear up some of the misconceptions regarding the Holy See of Rome.

The Church - far from being a micromanaged army of 1.2 billion Catholics who march in lock-step - consists of the most diverse population of any entity in the world. Consequently, top down control is effective only regarding doctrine. Everything else - including administration, finances, personnel and management - necessarily flows from the bottom up. The fact that there is a global collection of Catholic individuals whose cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints are wide-ranging, mandates a decentralized governing authority. So, the idea that the pontiff controls everything is a myth.

Even the Roman Curia, which is the administrative apparatus of the of the Holy See and the governing body of the Catholic Church, consists of just 2,170 individuals. Clearly, such a small group could not micromanage over a billion people around the globe even if it wanted.

There are also misconceptions regarding the wealth of the Church. While many of its works of art and architecture are literally priceless, they came into existence solely because they were commissioned by the Church. Now, the mammoth costs of maintenance and preservation must be born by the Church. So, the cost of securely storing and preserving those works are necessarily supported by entrance fees to the Vatican Museums, which make them available for all to see.

However, the endowment of buildings, real estate and patrimony of the Holy See is estimated at $1 billion. It sounds like a lot. But, for perspective, compare that to the endowments of Notre Dame University, which is 30 times larger, or to Harvard University, which is 100 times larger.

Also, the cost of running the Vatican City state is shockingly small. It's entire operating budget is just $270 million, annually. That is roughly the amount that is collected every 10 days from faithful Catholics in American alone.

Where does all the money go? In all of human history, there has never been an entity that has done more to educate, feed and heal mankind, both physically and Spiritually. Yet, somehow, mainstream journalists - those who imagine that they have perfected their professional skills of observation and perspective - attempt to tar the Church with the sins of a relative few. While those journalists revel that isolated evils have been discovered in the Church, they ignore that for centuries many millions have labored in the fields to bear fruit for God and man in most of the world's worst cesspools of human poverty. Those loving Catholics never did it for the money or the fame. They did it for the Faith.

Still, even with all of the recent attacks against, and crises in, the Roman Catholic Church, I am not worried. I have it on good authority that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(Many more misconceptions are covered in "The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church" by John L. Allen, Jr.)

* The popular, American legal concept of "joint and several liability" has opened a Pandora's Box of lawsuits against "deep pocket" defendants who, traditionally, would never have needed to defend themselves against highly tenuous charges. So, for example, if a sinful priest is convicted of a sex crime, and his lawyer can convince a jury that the bishop was 1% negligent in preventing the crime, then the Catholic Church can be held liable for 100% of the damages. (Generally, that explains why lawyers usually have the biggest yachts at the marina.)