Many people, mainly outside the Church, but some within, are scandalised by the great wealth of the Church, particularly the display of wealth in the Vatican. Citing Luke 18:22, they suggest that if the Catholic Church really is the Church of Christ, she should sell all she has and give it to the poor.
First of all, the Vatican is not as wealthy as many think. Karl Keating, founder and president of Catholic Answers, says this: "The Vatican's yearly budget is about the size of that of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The funds go partly for the upkeep of the Vatican itself, partly for missionary and other work around the world." In fact, people cannot take photos of the Sistine Chapel because a Japanese television corporation owns the copyright. The Vatican could not afford to finance the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, so this Japanese company sponsored it in exchange for the copyright privileges.
The Church has very little cash. Most of her wealth is tied up in real estate (churches, hospitals, schools, and missions), and in art work. Like the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, the hierarchy of the Church did not pay for these assets. It was the Church at large that paid for these assets; many times, the poor. These assets are not owned by the hierarchy, but by all Catholics. The Church hierarchy is merely the custodian of this real estate and art work.
It is true that the Church hierarchy could sell off all of the Church's art work and some of the Church's real estate, and give the proceeds to the poor. However, the money raised by these sales would be less that what the U.S. spends annually on welfare related programs. Once sold and the proceeds given to the poor, what took centuries to accumulate would be gone forever and could never be replaced. This would be a betrayal of the working poor that helped finance it, and a betrayal of the rich that gave it to the poor in care of the Church hierarchy.
It is true that Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor in Luke 18:22; nonetheless, three other passages should be considered:
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor." But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." (Matthew 26:6-13)
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor." And they reproached her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." (Mark 14:3-9)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." (John 12:1-8)
The passage in John is particularly revealing because it was the betrayer that suggested that the costly ointment should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. These passages imply that we will always have the poor to support, but we must not neglect to support great buildings and works of art that glorifies God, and are owned by the poor as well as the rich.
P.S. I will not be sending out an e-mail for the next three weeks. Have a very blessed Christ Mass!