What follows uses as an example the Catholic Church, for no other reason than its author, once a practicing Catholic, is most familiar with it. The same probably could be said of other wealthy denominations—the Anglican Church, for instance…
We hear of churches losing membership and the difficulty of attracting men to the priesthood. We also hear about the poverty, hunger and squalor lived by millions in the Third World and yes, other places as well.
On the other hand, we know about the glory of “Rome” and the vast riches on display at the Vatican, and can only guess at the sumptuous lives of the papacy and its minions who have few to answer to except themselves. The resources of the hierarchy are virtually limitless, and still growing.
But the subject of this short essay is not the diminishing of one of the richest institutions on earth. The subject here is ETHICS. And a concerted adherence to ethical principles would go a long way toward solving some of the “problems” of the church.
Imagine if the church divested itself of the bulk of its fungible riches, bringing the offices of the CEO down to size and putting the proceeds into investments to be drawn on as needed to fight world famine, plague and the like, and to provide a measurable standard of living to the truly destitute of the world. Was it Elizabeth Ann Seton who said “Live simply, so that others may simply live?” By bringing these people to a point where at least basic needs could be met would not only attract them to the church, but the Church’s beneficence would send a message to others as well. Can anyone imagine what clout this would provide?
Robbing Peter to pay Paul—now there’s a pun for you…
Buying members? Perhaps, but these would be grateful and devoted members who would further increase in numbers and bolster the church’s sagging membership. It also would build the church’s worldwide reputation, and doubtless attract even more to the priesthood.
Speaking of the priesthood, there’s some work to be done there as well. Instead of protecting the bad ones and/or sending them off to do their damage elsewhere…well, you know. A better screening process, perhaps?
Can you imagine the power to be gained by a Pope (and his Bishops) who, instead of a symbol of royalty, became something of an uber-monk, a man of humble lifestyle, a true man of the people who took his priestly vows of poverty seriously? Look at the success of The Dalai Lama, a man of far-reaching influence. Doesn’t the antithesis of poverty on display in Rome say something about double (or triple, or quadruple) standards? The poor see this flagrant display of power and money; the reputation of the church is not enhanced by it.
This by no means suggests a banishment of the hierarchy to the fields. It is simply a gross reduction in apparent counterproductive opulence. The coffers would continue to swell, but the money would be put to a better use—to spread the faith. This is, after all, what Christ wanted, isn’t it? Peter was a poor and humble man. His successors have come a long way from that.
But what has ethics to do with this? Simply everything. Ethics is about what’s true, right, and good. Is religion (or the church, if you wish) representing what’s true, right, and good? Your opinions may differ from ours, but you would be advised to examine the ethics involved. We have. One thing is certain—spreading the wealth would go a long way toward solving the church’s problems. Why? Could it be because it’s the right thing to do and benefits the entirety of humanity?
That’s what ethics is all about.