Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our Debt and Caritas in Veritate

Just in case I upset anyone in any particular curial office, I am merely being provocative, I am not denouncing anyone, or criticising any particular body etc etc etc....

I have been reading Caritas in Veritate, I have done it twice and I still think I need to reread it again and again. The articles I have read on it don't quite seem to encapsulate the closely woven arguements of theology and economics. Frankly it makes the Pope's previous two encyclicals seem like gentle holiday reads, and Paul VI's Populorum Progressio which it quotes from heavily and developes look like a primary school text.

As a parish priest on the edge of getting my parish into what for us will be a huge debt, £50,000, for the initial phase, more subsequently, at a time when many of my parishioners will be suffering more seriously than others from the effects of the economic crisis, the poor always suffer more than the rich in such a situation, I can't help but read Caritas in Veritate in the light of our situation.

We have and expensive plant, a beautiful Victorian Church, a big priest's house, which doubles as a pastoral centre, a Victorian school building which we run as a centre for the local community, making a small profit. The people who use it are "Voices in Exile", group run from my house for exiles and asylum seekers, along with various "Anonymous" groups Alcholics Anonymous, Cochaine Addicts Anonymous etc. Our buildings are excessively tall, buffetted constantly by the wind and rain coming directly from the English Channel, we are under strict legal obligations to preserve them.

I had an estimate to repair a window in the church for almost £10,000 yesterday, like every bill I have for minor repair work, because of the height of the church, 10% of it is for the cost of scaffolding. Of the money that comes in in the Offertory, which is really our only source of income, the diocese takes an 11% levy, it would be more if we were wealthier. Our parishioners who are mainly immigrants give approximately 60-80 pence per person, about 5o of them register to giftaid, which meeans we get 28p in the pound back from Inland Revenue. As a rough sample of our choir, only 25% are in employment, so the vast majority are on a minimum and very restricted income.

When Cardinal Murphy O'Connor was our Bishop he used to describe Arundel & Brighton as the "Gin and Jag Diocese", which is how other bishops described us. Surrey and Sussex are two of the wealthiest counties in the country but that is certainly not our parish profile, we are definitely inner city. There are certainly very wealthy parishes in our diocese, parishes with property or other endowments, parishes were legacies and large donations trickle in regularly. This is not our parish, a substantial amount of our income and energy goes on literally feeding the poor, if we had more money we could spend even more.

We have never been wealthy, in our history we have had parish priests who have been so overcome by the enormity of the task of keeping our buildings standing that they have done nothing and with crumbling stones falling around their ears they have taken to the bottle and died.

A previous generation built our plant and left it to us and our posterity. We are Christians, not mueum keepers, not custodians of Catholic heritage; the church, our own diocese and the law of the state place enormous burdens on us which we can't really bear. I delight in what Providence has given us but I am sure that a Polish or Slovakian worker who is desperate to gather enough money to return home or a Filipino immigrant desperately holding down two or three jobs to support a family at home, cares nothing at all for our heritage, all they want is the sacraments, a place to go to Mass. The building, its past, its future is of no concern to them, poverty causes one to live in the present and so many are poor. Indeed paying for its restoration merely means diverting already scarce resources from the proclamation of the Gospel.

So what does Caritas in Veritate have to say to us? At its heart is the basic gospel message of "Caritas", of the rich helping the poor. It is not that it is worthy thing to do, but rather is absolute necessity springing from the very notion of justice itself. Pope Benedict does not quote St Ambrose, where he says "If a rich man gives to the poor, he is not giving anything at all, he is merely returning that which he has falsely abrogated to himself, it is only when he gives of his necessities, that he is truly being charitable", as does Populorium Progressio, but it is that notion that lies behind Caritas in Veritate. It is about generosity, sharing, taking responsibility for those in need the details of the document are complicated but the broad sweep is very simple: it is the Gospel message of coming to the help of those in need. Someone yesterday suggested we should stop feeding the hungry because of our restoration project or start charging "Voices in Exile" rent, both would be a rejection of the Gospel.

Lest the Church is accused of hypocrisy, heaven forefend, it strikes me if we are to expect others to implement Caritas in Veritate's teaching, then first of all bishops and diocesan trustees, and their financial staff should take time studying it, and setting their own houses in order, according to its teaching. There must be implications for the redistribution of wealth and resources within the Church whilst still maintaining the principle of subsidiarity. The problem will always be, within the Church, the building of empires, but that seems to be contrary to the spirit of Caritas in Veritate. As it strikes me, the Pope is saying is the obligation is on the rich, "to give", the poor become their means of salvation.

It certainly means that parishes like mine should be given help by those who are wealthier.


Mary Martha said...

Is there not a system in place already in you diocese to have the wealthier parishes provide help?

Here in the Chicago Archdiocese (which has vast disparities between rich and poor parishes) there is a system of 'sharing parishes'. Wealthy parishes are linked with less financiall well off parishes to provide all sorts of assistance.

There is a second collection for the sharing parish once a month, and there have been extra calls for assistance when they need it for something in particular.

There are also volunteer opportunities for the two communities to work together and particular programs in the holidays to provide small, sensible gifts (hats and gloves and such) to the children in the sharing parish. That helps make it more than a monetary relationship between the communities.

Maybe you can try to build a relationship like that with one (or more!) of the more wealthy parishes in your diocese.

You might also consider placing a donation button here on your blog. I know I would like to make a donation to help with your big project.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mary Martha,
No there no structures for that here, in fact on the contrary there is an impetus not to share.

roydosan said...

"When Cardinal Murphy O'Connor was our Bishop he used to describe Arundel Brighton as the "Gin and Jag Diocese""

I've lived in A&B for the majority of my life and I'd say if that's what he thinks then he was mixing in the wrong circles. Though looking at his time in Westminster then I'd say he did the same there as well. He's not alone though - people see so much wealth around them they don't notice the poverty beneath the surface.

me said...

I truly feel for Priests who have become overwhelmed in their vocation, and turned to the bottle.I have a terribly sad experience of this,which resulted in a suicide.It affected my life profoundly,and is one of the reasons I got my own sorry act together,and started to regularly pray the Rosary for Priests.(Mary swaps her intentions for my worries). I never realised the immense pressure Priests are under,not just from the devil and his antics,but from their daily carrying out of their commission.Your words today, offer a sense of Christ's presence to me though,although this result is little help for you practically,I know.At times like these,I tend to go back to the stable and manger Jesus came to be born in,and thank Him for not setting His earthly life too high for me to reach,should life get the better of me,again.

Eric said...

There are so many priests who seem to be struggling, with different things.
I was so pleased when I heard our new bishop, Bishop Drainey spent a couple of days with our PP, it seemed to me he was there just to make friends.
It must be sad when priests feel no-one cares for them or their problems, as kind as our last bishop was, I see our present one making a real difference all over the diocese just by spending time with the men God has given him and enjoying their idiosyncrasies..

Annie said...

I agree with roydosan. It depends very much where you look.

I think it'd be a brilliant idea to redistribute resources.

fidelisjoff said...

It is sad that the sense of Christian solidarity is absent from parish funding. It also permits a sense of partiality with plum parishes for those favoured and financial struggle for others. I would have thought ideas of redistribution are very popular in some echelons of the diocese. We could learn from the EU or our own progressive tax system.

Michael Petek said...

Paragraph 65 of the Encyclical's interesting.

The Holy Father's against usury.

Dilly said...

The need for the preservation of beautiful gothic revival churches is the elephant in the room, when it comes to diocesan and national strategies. SFX Salisbury Street, Liverpool was in this position a few years ago, and by dint of utilising the skills of SFX College old boys, and other concerned locals, the parish was re-generated. the story is on their website. NA and AA groups are used to rent rises - and can get subsidies from "intergroup" level and national level, to meet rental costs if they are uneconomic - richer groups are expected to hand over excess funds to subsidise poorer ones, so in all conscience you can negotiate a market rent for them. Also some of the other groups might be entitled to council help or grants to pay a market rent - perhaps a business-savvy parishioner could help them apply. There does need to be a group to lobby the Bishops Conference for a fund for parishes in your situation - of course the elephant I am talking about is the distaste for traditional ways - which the layout and accoutrements of a gothic church represent - but things are changing and the time is ripe!

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

It's great you allow AA & other groups to use your facilities..excellent.

Re your parish..ours is in a poor area of the city bordering on a richer section. Sadly some think our church is rich which when one considers the extra financial burdens it faces more recently is such a shame.

gemoftheocean said...

Here in our diocese the wealthier parishes do end up helping out the poorer ones to a degree. The bishop shares the wealth a bit -- especially when the parishes in the poorer areas are caring the load with direct involvement with the poor as opposed to "Our Lady of the Cadillacs" in the suburbs.

I'm surprised your bishops don't do the same.

Our own parish does make some money on the side by running a gift shop. (We are smack in the middle of a tourist area.) Some of the older parishoners volunteer to run it, which gives them something to do and let's them contribute time and talent too.

Ours is in a mixed area. Rich pepole "up the hill" -- some older/poorer folks also in "low land" parish cachement -- poorer housing stock -- and then we have a lot of san Diegans who happen to be in Old town "for fun" on the weekend and decide to attend Mass in the parish. Somehow it all comes out okay in the wash.

Don't be shy about going to the bishop with a request for some help with all the work that your parish does. Not much money, but wealthy in spirit and giving. If you don't ask - you don't get.

As far as asking the poor for money. You can always ask!! In America, FROM SCRATCH, before there was any kind of welfare for the poor thousands of communities built their far-more-beautiful churches from the pennies the poor could donate PLUS all the rest. "The poor" also want to chip in too.

Anonymous said...

Father, I was surprised (and a little shocked) to learn there is no 'sharing' of resources as Mary Martha describes. When I was a child I am sure this kind of thing existed as I remember it being talked about. Poorer parishes were supported from a kind of fund that wealthier parishes paid into. What happened to that? Or was it only a Wolverhampton thing?

I am still getting through a first reading of CV but I too have noticed the emphasis on mutual responsibility rather than constantly harping on about rights.

I think at a small level distribution (I don't like the word redistribution as it implies some kind of force to me) of wealth does happen. I frequently write about this on my blog.

Those of us who are part of the home ed community are often all struggling financially (living on one income) and so we understand the difficulties; we share clothes, food, baby stuff, curriculum resources-you name it, we share it.
Surely this can be done with groups in parishes.
Our family has received unasked for but greatly needed and appreciated financial help from a fellow mother of a large family in our parish. This kindness as we struggle so much has brought me to tears-I am so grateful.
Don't give up. God can't change free will but He knows how to nag worse than a wife :)
May He nag those who ought to be helping you to do so.
God bless

Dilly said...

You may have already looked at this, but I did a little trawl and found that English heritage, and National Churches Trust at both consider grants for some of the things you describe. Obviously - applying would be no picnic and you might have already tried- but I thought they might be able to advise you of other funding sources even if they couldn't help you direct, if you kept at them. Even if the main work didn't attract a grant, some of the smaller stuff might.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think we have tried them, practically every body gives nothing to Grade 2 buildings. We need to be Grade 2*

Adulio said...

The Holy Father's against usury.

The Catholic church has always been against usury. It should hardly be surprising that the Holy Father reiterates the obvious.

ffn said...

Exactly how far is your church from the nearest other churches.why not sell yours off and buy a minibus

Norah said...

As far as I am aware, in my archdiocese in Australia poorer parishes receive money from the collection parishes send in.

Delia said...

Can't find St Mary Magdalen in Nairn/Pevsner - they can't have missed it, surely?

A PayPal button? Perhaps not a thermometer, though!

Crux Fidelis said...

Here's what the Psalmist has to say about usury:

Psalm 15 (Domine, quis habitabit?)

Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent
and dwell on your holy mountain?

He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart;
he who does not slander with his tongue;

He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord;

he who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm forever.

Michael Petek said...

Oh, goody! That means I don't have to pay interest on my debts!

Crux Fidelis said...

I don't know what the practice of our diocese is regarding well off parishes helping poorer ones but I'll find out tomorrow. There are probably about only about ten out of 35 or so one could consider as well off.

One of the poorest parishes (St Joseph's in Greenock) has at present Bishop Mario Delpini auxiliary in Milan standing in for the PP who is on holiday. Apparently, they are old friends from the "Greg".

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