As a product of Catholic school, I remember the nuns drilling into our heads a simple but extremely important concept: WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? We were instructed to use this question as a guide for what we should do in a given situation, and act accordingly.
Interestingly, the Church itself doesn’t seem to apply this principle in one key area: the thirst for more money.
As a large and complex entity, the Church clearly needs significant funds not just to survive but to prosper. I have no problem with parishioners being asked for money at collection time, nor is it unreasonable to lay out the financial needs of the parish. What’s incomprehensible, however, is the lengths certain priests go to in order to wrangle every available dollar from donors.
While attending mass in Florida recently, I read that the parish was building a new church. That is a positive sign, indicative of a growing Catholic community, but how this particular parish is raising money is troubling.
In the church bulletin, it is stated that "Jesus Loves a Cheerful Giver". Good thing, because the names of all those who have contributed to the new church are listed in alphabetical order. This serves the congregation well in that, during the homily, churchgoers can learn if their neighbors have written a check to the building fund. While donation amounts are not posted in this list, the fun is only just beginning. The "Commemoratives" section truly separates the men from the boys, or at least serves to stroke the egos of those with large pocketbooks.
It seems as if the Church Fund is just not enough, because everything going into the Church is also for sale. You want to buy the elevator for the new building? Come up with $25,000. Too much? How about a restored candle holder for only a grand? If you want to ensure that your child has an extra holy Christening, you can donate $100,000 for the baptismal font. But if these selections seems too plebian, you can always arrange for your name to be on the Church Hall for a cool $300,000. The bingo players will love you! My favorite of all is the Reconciliation Room, available for $25,000. (For the non-Catholics out there, that’s where we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness). If you want to be fast-tracked in that category, you’d better hurry, because there are only two left. Much to confess, apparently.
But the most troubling example of a money grab going beyond the pale is the fact that, for $5, students at the Catholic school could "dress down" on a given day, leaving the required uniform at home. Too bad for the child whose parents were rushed that morning getting the children to school and themselves to work, and simply forgot. Or perhaps they just weren’t able to make it to an ATM the night before. Or what about the family that has three or even four students in the school? Twenty dollars here and there adds up quickly. What makes this sin mortal is that the children are used as pawns, and, if their parents don’t contribute, are embarrassed because they are "different". Where are the Catholic values in that?
I guess we should count our blessings, though, for it wasn’t long ago that certain parishes published the name of each parishioner— and the amount of money he gave— every week. How’s that for fulfilling the Christian mission?
I’m going out in a limb here, but when I ask myself WWJD, I think I know the answer.
It is said that history repeats itself, and it is doing so now.
It seems that the modern Church has not learned from its past mistakes. In its eternal quest for more money, it has pitted parishioner against parishioner, neighbor against neighbor, and even parish against parish. Its practices have not only condoned but encouraged the "keep up with the Joneses’" mentality, and shames those families who cannot afford such extravagance as a $10,000 pew or even a $500 Chapel Chair. It’s safe to assume that some of those kicking in the big bucks are not stellar Catholics, but their financial gifts are able to wipe the slate clean. Is their cash really more valuable than the mother who works the lunchroom or the father who takes off work to pull playground duty? Is the money more desirable than the countless hours of volunteer grunt work—you know, the people who actually keep the school and church going?
The Church has become blinded once again, acting no differently than when it engaged in simony and the selling of indulgences, which was why the Reformation was born (hence the word "protest" in Protestant).
Whether it is the continuing surge of Catholics who are fleeing the Church of Rome to the Evangelical faiths, or the dwindling number of parishioners at Sunday Mass, or the shockingly high amount of gray hair (or no hair) on the shrinking number of priests, the Church is faltering.
Charity should be anonymous, and the Church needs to act accordingly to restore the dignity and mission of what was once the world’s most powerful faith.
In that regard, I am taking my concerns directly to the Pope. But I wonder how much that would cost?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]