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Issue: How can Catholics explain to critics the significant wealth of the Vatican and the Church in general, given the Churchís consistent exhortation to help the poor?
Response: The Church is called to be the good steward of the spiritual riches of Christís Mystical Body while also exercising a stewardship of her material resources for the temporal and eternal well being of all humanity.
Discussion: The vast majority of the Churchís property (e.g., churches, schools and hospitals) is specifically dedicated to the service of people, especially the poor.
When U.S. urban centers declined in the 1970s and 1980s, the Church didnít try to sell off her properties before they became devalued. Rather, parishes in Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere were kept open as long as possible. By the time the Church decided to close and sell them, the property value of the churches had significantly decreased.
The Vatican does own property of substantial financial value. The Church could sell these items, but she considers herself the guardian of these treasures for the whole world. She makes them available for pilgrims and tourists to enjoy when visiting such places as St. Peterís Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the various Vatican museums. The Church has also allowed her art holdings to be used in tours to countries including the United States, for those who cannot visit Italy and elsewhere. Revenue obtained by displaying these items is then used to assist the needs of people everywhere.
Critics have also objected to the use of costly vessels, including, in the past, even diamond-encrusted chalices. The Church has always used precious metals and other valuable materials in the construction of sacred vessels because they hold the Body and Blood of Christ. This tradition dates back to Old Testament times, when God ordered the use of precious metals and other costly materials in the construction of the ark of the covenant, the temple, and the furniture in the temple. These materials included gold, silver, bronze, fine linens, acacia wood, spices for oils and incense, and onyx stones (see e.g., Ex. 25-31). By giving our best to God, we are reminded that everything we have is a blessing from Him and that we need to seek Him first and trust in Him (cf. Mt. 6:33), instead of relying on ourselves and our own plans.
The Churchís preferential option for the poor is also expressed through her many charitable works at the parochial, diocesan, national and international levels. In times of moral crisis, the Vatican has used her wealth to aid people, such as selling gold to stave off the extermination of many Jews during World War II.
If the Church sold all of her various holdings, poverty would continue to be a lasting concern (cf. Mk. 14:7) and the Church, the greatest champion of poor and oppressed people throughout the world, would not have the resources to provide assistance. The Church will always be a world leader in addressing poverty, but just as she is called to be the good steward of the spiritual riches of Christís Mystical Body, she also exercises a certain stewardship of her material resources for the temporal and eternal well being of all humanity.
With the help of institutions and experts, the Church will be able to develop further the current interest for her cultural heritage while considering the work carried out in the two millennia of history and developing proposals for the future. Consequently, it would be advisable to give back to humanity a sense of history woven by both daily and great events; to show the influence of Christianity throughout the centuries in various social and cultural contexts; to recall those natural disasters and the wars that have led in some cases to the destruction of important masterpieces; to teach through a fitting plan of school education and permanent formation that the cultural heritage of the Church is particularly significant for the entire community; to recall that the ecclesial aim of this heritage is the proclamation of the Gospel and human fulfilment; to overcome discriminations between rich and poor, different cultural and ethnical backgrounds, different religious denominations and religions (Pastoral Functions of Ecclesiastical Museums, no. 3).
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Send Oh Lord Holy Apostles into your churchďChrist has no body but yours, no hands butyours, no feet but yours.Yours are the eyes through which Christíscompassion must look upon the world.Yours are the feet with which He is to go about
doing good.Yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.ĒSt. Theresa of Avila