One persistent attack against the Church is that she hordes extensive wealth for herself instead of distributing it to the poor. This is claimed to be proof of her corruption and hypocrisy. The facts are quite different than this narrative would suggest.
The Catholic Church does indeed receive a lot of money from its billion plus members. It does not keep it however. The Church is the biggest charitable organization in the world, running shelters, orphanages, schools, hospitals and many other individual charities.
No one is getting rich, even those who have not taken a vow of poverty. Our clergy and other religious are highly educated, work long hours, earn a fairly “soft” concept of when “retirement” begins (if ever) – yet are paid little materially. They do not live in lavish residences. They do not drive luxury cars (sometimes a parishioner, such as a car dealer, will loan their bishop one). Compare that to non-Catholic Christians, other religions and any secular charity.
It is true that we have beautiful churches and artwork. These are gifts to the Church for the Glory of God. They inspire and elevate the human spirit. They are not monetary investment assets but priceless spiritual ones. Secularists might think of them as part of our “operation” just as offices of the United Way are part of theirs.
Marc Barnes wrote about this topic over at Bad Catholic:
But most importantly — and this really is my point here — the wealth of the Church exists for the edification and benefit of every Catholic. Cathedrals are not solely for bishops. A throne exists for more than the man sitting on it. It is a certain nasty pride that tells the man suffering from poverty that the Beauty surrounding him — be he a homeless man appreciating the cool of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, or a Haitian saying prayers in the Cathédrale St. Jacques et St. Philippe — that it should all be torn down, sold, and given to him in the form of money. It is an offense to say, “this golden tabernacle you kneel before — it should be melted for bread.” The poor man in this position would do well to tell his just-escaped-the-Internet friend the truth that “man does not live on bread alone.”
Faulting the Cathedrals and Basilicas of the world for containing “too much” wealth is an awkward denial of the fact that the Cathedrals and Basilicas of the world are explicitly for the use of the poor, and to steal from them is to steal — not merely from the Church — but from the poor themselves, who — despite the perceptions of Hollywood — do not merely need bread, cash and contraception, but beauty, ritual, and God as well.
Make sense? The visible wealth — the very stuff that sets people complaining — is for the poor.
But surely the cardinals and Popes are rolling in it. Right? I can’t speak for the entire world, but the average salary of an American bishop is 23,000 dollars a year, about half the average American’s. The average priest’s is 40,000 dollars a year, only 20,000 of which is actually “take home cash”. And if you’re the Pope, not only does your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Pope’s get one gold, silver and copper coin for each year of service placed on their coffin. Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars.
Read the whole piece: In Defense of Nice Churches. There are many excellent comments as well.