We all need to question Peter’s Pence, which is advertised as the collection for the Holy Father’s charitable uses, and determine where the money goes. The Vatican has released information about approximately 11 percent of the 2009 collection of $82 million; the rest is unaccounted for. What I learned during my research is that, for most of the last century, funds from Peter’s Pence went to plug the Vatican’s operating deficit. The Vatican Bank is not even listed as an asset on the financial records.
Secondly, we need to follow closely the wave of parish closings—an average of one church per week over the past 15 years. The priest shortage is the primary reason. Demographic changes are relevant, too. So is the reality of costly abuse litigation.
A related issue is the use of suppression, the Church-approved device by which a bishop literally seizes a parish and all of its assets for whatever uses he wants. In Ohio, for example, a bishop ordered a parish suppressed. When the parishioners raised $100,000 and hired an attorney [to keep it open], the bishop used almost $78,000 to pay his attorney to fight the parishioners. The court in that state ruled that the bishop owned the parish. When that decision was delivered, the bishop had the church torn down and used the parishioners’ money to pay the legal fees. I see this as rank injustice and a moral outrage!
Another key theme in the book relates to embezzlements by priests and lay workers. Several years ago the so called Villanova Study was conducted by the university’s graduate program for Church management. Approximately 85 percent of respondents reported embezzlement of funds from the Sunday collection. In my book I quote Michael W. Ryan, a retired U.S. Postal Inspection Service manager and rock-ribbed Catholic who has studied this for more than 20 years. He estimates that, since 1965, the Church has lost approximately $2 billion from the Sunday collection to embezzlement and theft.
Finally, a core theme of my book is that the Roman Catholic Church does not have an adequate justice system. Instead, we have these ancient tribunals at the Vatican that give bishops de facto immunity from prosecution. No matter what they do, the worst that can happen is they will “step down.”
It became clear to me in writing this book that, as Catholics, we really are shaped by a culture of passivity. It’s not just “pray, pay, obey,” as the old slogan goes. It’s deeper than that. The biggest benefit the bishops have at this time is the apathy of the average Catholic. Most people go to church to hear the Gospel, to be comforted, to be part of the community. We are not disposed to think about the Church as a political institution.
I think there is a parallel between the so-called Arab Spring and what’s going on in the Church. We are witnessing, I believe, the slow crumbling of the edifice of Catholic authority as we once knew it. We are living through the second Reformation. This one is coming from within—from Catholics who want justice from their own Church.
By Jason Berry (Excerpts taken from St. Anthony Messenger October 2011.)