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Religion…always open for business

The Wholly Rotten Criminal Church: 01-Introduction

"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” – Matthew 21:12-13

The blatant commercialization of and profiteering from Jewish spirituality by the Temple priests and their cronies was so bad that it drove the usually meek Jesus to physical violence. His condemnation of the centuries’ long simony practiced by Judea’s religious leaders made such an impression, that verse 13 is also repeated verbatim in Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46. John 2:16 has Jesus shouting out that they should stop turning the house of his god into a marketplace. There is no evidence this event actually occurred, but if this literary character were alive today, he’d be looking for far more drastic weapons than a whip to rid the world of the parasites calling themselves minister or pastor. And like the Sadducees of old, those leaders would equally seek Jesus’ execution, or quietly arrange for him to have a little accident, ‘cause not even Jesus himself should take primacy over the cash flowing by the billions into the church coffers.

Today, Jesus could lose his cool on Christian sects like the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Mormon Church or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet his main target would without a doubt be the Holy Roman Catholic Church. There is nothing holy about it. Like all of its offshoots, it claims to be the one true church established by Jesus (even though Jesus never established any church at all). While it is no different when it comes to false claims and empty promises, it certainly stands out in the power it wields and the wealth it has accumulated over the past 1,800 years. Just like the Roman Empire - and having paid close attention to its emperors - this organization has steadily expanded its wealth, power and cultural influence by all means possible. Plunder, theft, intimidation, bribery, corruption, rape and murder have proven themselves to be the most effective means to spread Christianity and with it, the human resource pool this cancerous religion could exploit.

Religious organizations find themselves under a lot of scrutiny nowadays, to the dismay of its proponents and stake holders. This introductory article already makes it clear that the main criminal in our crosshairs is the Wholly Rotten Criminal Church, but that doesn’t mean that other religious institutions or organizations would be any less criminal or corrupt. The crimes against humanity - or crimes tout court - perpetrated by or under sanction of the Roman Catholic Church make up for an extensive and morbid library. Along the way we may refer to some of them to illustrate how this “church for the poor” built its wealth in part on the backs of the poor; whether this was done by taxing them to poverty or simply taking their properties.

The modest residence of a poor Catholic bishop

As a mere starting point, I entered in Google’s search bar the question: “What is the net worth of the Catholic Church?” There are of course dozens of related and or similar questions:

• How much is the net worth of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church?

• How does the Catholic Church make money? Why do they have a lot of it?

• Who owns more real estate, the Roman Catholic Church or McDonalds?

• Why does the Catholic Church have so much money compared with other religions?

• Is the Catholic Church the richest organization?

• How much land does the Roman Catholic Church own?

• How much rental income does the Catholic Church derive from its properties?

• What is the value of the Catholic Church’s real estate?

• Etc., etc…

No one can answer these questions with absolute accuracy, not even the Catholic Church. This in itself should tell you something about this organization. Imagine a company like Google or Apple sending a note to the BIR or Treasury Department, saying they made some money but only just enough to cover their expenses without presenting detailed and audited financial statements. Imagine such companies then turning around to the public asking to invest in them. “Of course, we can’t tell you what we do with the money, but trust us…we’ll make good use of it."

That is precisely what happens with the Criminal Church. People keep donating, in spite of the mountains of evidence showing that those donations are not used as they should be. One reason why the Church could not honestly answer those questions is because it is set up like a modern day terrorist organization, with thousands of cells operating (fiscally and financially) independent of each other. The latter is alluded to by the two top answers on Quora I refer to. It is no surprise that the wealth of the Catholic Church is most often downplayed by its stakeholders, whether they are clergy or lay devotees. These two top answers are perfect examples thereof.

1. Net worth of the Catholic Church … according to Andrew Boyd, professor of theology and religious studies (Paid by various Catholic universities, but this has no bearing whatsoever on his objectivity…)

"The Catholic Church is really a network of many organizations, including, at least:

223,000 parishes (or equivalent)

94,600 elementary schools

47,500 secondary schools

9,900 orphanages

5,400 hospitals

3,000 dioceses (or equivalent)

2,500 religious orders (or similar)

1,400 universities and seminaries

150 international lay movements/associations

The Holy See and the Vatican City State

…each of which may (or may not) be counted as a separate entity, depending on the legal codes of the country in which it is operating. (e.g., whether a parish’s finances are counted as all part of the diocese, or they have their own non-profit status and bank accounts varies widely).

Nor does it count independent blogs, websites, publications, foundations, or institutions which claim connection to the Catholic Church but are not official agents thereof. (Like EWTN)

It is a big enough headache trying to wrangle the Holy See’s finances in order, a priority of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Another century or so might be enough time to get the whole picture. Which would probably disappoint you. Most of what the Church brings in, it spends on services (religious, medical, educational, etc), and the properties and personnel to operate those services.

In some research, it is estimated that St. Peter’s Basilica construction cost 50,000 ducats (at least). Which is roughly equivalent to about $7 billion today.

Which is admittedly a lot of money - but it isn’t the most expensive building ever built. And it took 120 years. And Jeff Bezos could build two dozen of them today and still be a multi-billionaire.

So don’t go thinking the Church could compete with governments, corporations, and billionaires today, even if you do count 2000 years’ worth of accrued assets."

2. Net worth of the Catholic Church … according to Francis Marsden, Catholic priest with Cambridge chemistry doctorate (I fail to see the relevancy of mentioning his chemistry doctorate). Some bias may be assumed.

"This is a question impossible to answer. Each of the over 3000 dioceses is financially separate from the Vatican, as are all the hundreds and hundreds of religious orders.

Furthermore each parish is in canon law a separate owner of its own property. The diocesan trustees may be trustees, but they are charity trustees, not owners.

How do you value each of the 50,000 parish churches and buildings?

By their cost of replacement if they burnt down?

By their sale value?

By the value of their land if they were demolished?

Thousands upon thousands of Catholic churches and cathedrals are under preservation orders of the countries in which they are situated. So even if some bishop or priest wanted to replace them, he wouldn’t be able.

On the whole, buildings are a liability. Maybe 30–50% of our annual income goes on repairs, maintenance and heating costs. A big repair job like a roof replacement can easily empty a parish’s bank account and send it into the red."

A recently constructed liability, graciously accepted by the Archbishop of Nairobi to serve as his private residence. Another property to complain about...

3. Preliminary rebuttal

Neither really aims to answer the question honestly but seem to make poor excuses. Andrew Boyd thinks that one cannot measure the wealth of the Catholic Church against governments, corporations or billionaires today, but then uses a comparison with Jeff Bezos all the same. Moreover, he claims this because the parent organization, the Holy See, is not responsible for its thousands of subsidiaries. But then the net asset value of Royal Dutch Shell plc should not include the value of its subsidiaries either. According to Andrew, the Saint-Peter’s-Basilica alone is worth 7 billion USD in our 21st century and Jeff Bezos could build two dozen of them and still be a billionaire. So the Catholic Church is not rich because Jeff Bezos is richer? If Jeff Bezos spent his 177 billion to build 25 St.-Peters-Basilicas, then how will he build those 143,500 educational buildings you yourself mentioned, Mr. Boyd? And then there are still a few churches to compete with… I know you are a professor of religion, Mr. Boyd, but the math isn’t that hard.

On a side note, the Saint-Peters-Basilica is not the largest Catholic Church in the world. This dubious honor goes to the Basilica of our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. The estate evidently comes with appendices (a rectory and a villa). Estimates of the construction costs wildly vary. Pope John Paul II accepted the newly built vanity as a gift on behalf of the Catholic Church in 1990, so Catholics can now complain about its yearly administration cost of 1.5 million USD, which equals the yearly income of about 1,000 Ivory Coast nationals. Let us now look at the value of the other 260,000 Catholic churches… …or let’s hold off on that for now.

The priest Francis Marsden complains about the vast real estate portfolio of his employer in more detail and asks us how one should value a building. Yes indeed, Mr. Marsden, how does one value a building? Maybe you could ask how a real estate agent does the very same? The amount covered by an insurance policy may also give you an idea. You think your employer’s real estate holdings are a wealth consuming liability? Then why own buildings? Nowhere in the bible does Jesus order his disciples to go out into the world and buy, steal or accept donations of real estate. Quite on the contrary: one of his simplest instructions was to sell your possessions. How much food could be grown on the 30 hectares of land the Basilica in Yamoussoukro sits on? How many families would that sustain?

One of the most often used means to downplay the Catholic Church’s wealth, is resorting to semantics of what ownership really is. Catholics argue that their Church does not own anything but merely acts as a custodian of churches, billions of company stock and the lands it stole from people all over the world. By the same logic, the Church’s wealth cannot be compared to the governments cited by Andrew, because technically governments do not own anything either and merely serve as temporary custodians of its nation’s resources, assets and income. Let’s just call a cat a cat, shall we?

Proud family estate of a typical lay Kenyan family

A final remark in this preliminary and much needed reality check for some blatantly biased Catholic stakeholders is dedicated to the last paragraph of Mr. Marsden’s lamentation on the poverty of his Church. No one is forcing you to own a building, but if you do it is your choice and you should not complain about the costs of maintaining that property: the larger or the older the building, the higher the costs. Even in some of the most secular countries, religious organizations still do not pay any Property, Land or Real Estate Tax, unlike the simple folk of their flocks, who are not deserving of such equal treatment. Yet complaining about the maintenance costs of a building when you are not even the one paying for it is beyond shameless. The restoration cost of the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica in the Philippines for instance, stood at 5 million USD by end 2014. But 35 % of that amount was already donated by two benefactors alone, while the rest was collected from thousands, sometimes really poor people who pitched in a few centavos. According to the restoration project leader, the Church did not even have to spend money “of its own”.

In one country at least, repairs to Catholic churches or similar patrimony are not always born by the Catholic Church. In Belgium, these are paid for (often and in large part) by the Belgian municipalities, or in other words: the tax payer (which does not include the Catholic Church). In 2021 alone, 129 million euros (148 million USD) of Belgian tax payers’ money was spent on the upkeep of Catholic churches. This is somewhat ironic, since not even 6 % of Belgians regularly attends mass. In spite of the alleged separation of church and state in this purported secular country, all Belgians are taxed to pay for all religions’ real estate and overhead costs. A Muslim Belgian is forced to pay equally for the upkeep of Catholic buildings as vice versa, all Belgians pay for the upkeep of mosques, no matter how much some of them may resent the religion. The average Catholic priest in Belgium receives a non-taxable income of 21,000 USD per year, paid for – thank you very much – by the mostly irreligious sheeple of Belgium. In 2016 the Belgians paid 86 million euros (approx. 100 million USD) in priest’s wages with their taxes. Maybe Jeff Bezos should relocate his company to Belgium and have his employees pay for his employees’ wages? The Catholic Church has enjoyed and continues to enjoy numerous benefits and prerogatives, yet still many of the members of the richest organization in the world find reasons to complain. A simple thank you would be more to your credit, Mr. Marsden. The top spot of wealthiest organizations in the world may vary depending on the criteria you use. If one would calculate the value of a company like Amazon as the sum of the net worth of its employees, chances are that it would not even figure in the Forbes list, or any similar ranking of the world’s largest or richest organizations.

Now that we have criticized the denials of the Catholic Church’s wealth, are there any numbers that support our claim that the RCC really is the wealthiest organization in human history? Of course there are! We will look at some examples in the upcoming articles.

David, aPHD, 12 December 2021


Sources and references:

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