Extravagance in the Church?


I just watched this video clip from Bill Maher’s documentary, Religulous. In it, he is standing in front of the Vatican, points to it, and asks the audience,

“Does that look anything like anything Jesus Christ had in mind?”

And I know how much all of you probably adore Bill Maher ;), but he has a point. My home parish is currently building a second church for $2.5 million, complete with gold trimmings and and big ol’ church bell. Which is fine and dandy, but um…there are thousands of people all over the world who lack food, water, medicine, shelter, and even a semblance of a religious community, and that $2.5 million could have gone toward them. I am aware that the Catholic church is very active in aiding the poor, but imagine how many people we could feed with $2.5 million more. Just saying.

How can the Catholic church allow such extravagance? And don’t tell me it’s just a problem with my diocese because this happens all over the place; in fact, it happens at the Vatican! It seems so contrary to Christ’s message.

I just want to see if any of you can possibly figure out a way to justify this.

No he doesn’t. There is a reason why, when you’re invited to a friends for dinner, you don’t show up barefooted, wearing shorts and a dirty t-shirt with stubble all over your face. The celebration of Mass should be as austere and reverent as possible. St. Peters Basilica is at the seat of the Holy Catholic Church, and rightly deserves to be a place of splendor for the celebration of Mass and the repository of the Most Holy Eucharist. Do you think Jesus deserves less?

Also, St. Peters was built during the height of the Rennaissance; it’s what you would expect that type of architecture to be.

And what happens after you spend that $2.5 million and it is all gone? The UN reports that 17,000 children a day die throughout the world because of lack of food. How far do you think that $2.5 million will go to end it? What do we do when there is no more?

A parish church is a place where the sacraments are celebrated for the community. That is why permanent buildings are built. It will be there for a long, long time serving the spiritual and physical needs of the parish. Actually, nowadays $2.5 million for a new church is very reasonable. In any event, Jesus has already answered your question. We will always have the poor. It would be very difficult to have a church without a physical building.

I’m pretty sure the building of the new church is not going to be done inefficiently and I would be very surprised if it was being done on normal commercial terms - ie. the contractor building it will probably not be making much if any profit on it.

What you’ll hopefully get is a building that is respectful, sensible, fits in with the local culture and vernacular architecture and is a place which is available for the people to come together as one - in communion with each other - to worship.

We are asked to be in communion with each other. That’s difficult or impossible to do when there isn’t a place where we can gather together. The Church started without buildings, but it also started without very many people and those that did gather together in small numbers did so in ‘upper rooms’. As soon as their numbers swelled, those ‘upper rooms’ didn’t hold them any more. Practical arrangements needed to be made.

Think of it this way… in days before TV and newspapers (and, indeed, much in the way of literacy if you go back far enough) if nobody ever got together in a group, they wouldn’t learn about the things they needed to learn about, and that includes the plight of the poor. Without knowing about the duty to be charitable the poor would have remained poor and nobody would have given any charity at all, except in individual circumstances that happened right in front of their noses.

Money spent on churches can be thought of as an investment in ensuring that charitable giving can still be organised and spurred on. The church building will be paid for now, but it’ll last a hundred years and from that investment more charity will be born.

And a beautiful church is something that everyone can enjoy. Especially in low income neighbourhoods, it might be people’s only chance to sit quietly in the presence of beauty.

Let’s put this in perspective. Would it be wise to, say, not build a school or hospital and send that money to feed the poor? I think not. Why not?

Some might argue that the local medical or educational needs of those who would lose out if those buildings did not go ahead take precedence. That would be a good argument. Why not the spiritual needs?

It is a question of priorities, however. The equitable distribution of food and goods hinges upon a very broad set of practices and policies that everyone has a part in. Consider the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on cosmetics, sporting events and facilities, discretionary items, etc., by modern western culture. Shouldn’t these unnecessary monies be diverted to the poor ahead of resources earmarked for building a strengthened spiritual and moral culture locally?

Why is Bill Maher, for example, focussing his critique on the Church and not on some wealthy billionaire who lives in a mansion worth 100 million dollars which serves only his own needs rather than the spiritual needs of a billion Catholics? Again a question of priorities.

Building your church provides gainful employment to dozens of artisans, who might otherwise go hungry, or need charity.

There is no sin giving them employment and using their skills to glorify God by building a magnificent church edifice.

Poverty is not fixed by throwing money at it. The Church is the worlds largest charitable organization. Don’t be swayed by straw man arguments from the militant atheists. What is Bill Maher doing for the poor?

Then why is the Church the world’s largest charitable organization?

The Church is the worlds largest charitable organization.


I’m not sure that he hasn’t. But if so, probably b/c the millionaire does not claim to have the same moral authority that the Church does. With great authority comes great responsibility.

I expect the Church to behave better than a random millionaire. I think we all should expect and demand that. I’m not saying that the Church doesn’t behave better, I’m just saying it’s reasonable to hold it up to a higher standard.

Some people seem to think of Holy Church as a great international Ebenezer Scrooge, which takes in vast amounts of money and sits on them and pays a meager salary and never turns on the heat.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When Holy Church takes in money, she spends it as well. As runningdude pointed out, a building project can provide jobs for dozens or hundreds of artisans and laborers. What is more merciful to the poor? Selling a chalice to give them a handout, or commissioning a chalice and giving them jobs that will endure?

You must remember that just as money flows into Holy Church, so money flows out of her as well. Millions of clergy and religious are paid a decent living - or at least a life of poverty - from diocesan and religious institute coffers. Elaborately decorated sacred shrines drive tourism in many areas, bringing pilgrims and their dollars to spend on the local economy.

I would say that Holy Church is not only the largest charitable organization in the world, but the largest corporation stimulating the economy and providing jobs for many. Best of all, Holy Church’s “products” are free of charge and of inestimable value: where else could we receive personal holiness, glory for God, and eternal life? I think it’s a bargain!

I just saw this link in another thread. It seems very appropriate here when looking at the relationship of poverty to the Church and how respect for Church buildings can be a way of showing reverence to those who bear poverty with honor.


I suspect that the buildings and decor that comprise many churches have been created by the loving and reverent hands of poor individuals. Bill Maher has no right to cast negative light on the structures that these individuals have built to honor God by their sacrifices and choices. Churches are most often monuments and testaments to the self-sacrificial love of dedicated and caring human beings. These are gifts made to God by human ingenuity and devotion which far surpasses the merely “economic” or self-aggrandizing motives for many other edifices that dot the Earth.

I agree wholeheartedly. The Lord is owed far more glory and honor than we can ever actually give Him. We honor Him in worship by giving Him our very best. That does not mean we neglect to care for His people.
(As an aside, I doubt you meant to use the word “austere” given the context of the rest of the post.)

From what I can tell Mr. Maher, himself, lives in an expensive house in Beverly Hills, so precisely what is the “higher” standard he is promoting that he feels he need not hold himself to?

Mr. Maher is claiming the “moral authority” to criticize the Church, so as you say, “With great authority comes great responsibility.” Should this not apply to him and his own extravagance, then?

I don’t particularly care for Mr. Maher’s attitude and I don’t think the Church is wrong, but I do think the issue is more complicated than it seems.

The Church has several obligations: it must provide for its people to worship, it must care for our souls and it must also carry out the other missions of Christ on Earth in feeding the hungry, providing shelter to the homeless, and ministering to others with various needs.

I get the sense that some would throw the latter parts of its mission out the window (“throwing money at poverty does nothing,” etc.) but the reality is the Church HAS NOT and CANNOT do that.

The difficulty lies in the allocation of resources, what portion of its budget must attend to one need or another. I do not think the Church has failed in this regard but if it does, then one would be right to identify the problem.

I couldn’t have put it any better.

Thank you.

I agree completely with this.

To further the thought, though, the Church on Earth is comprised of all the individuals who are part of it. The Church’s shortcomings simply reflect the shortcomings of all of us who make up the “living stones” that form it and give it shape. When someone launches a criticism at “the Church” it should be very clear what precisely is being criticized. The tendency among the lay is to point at the priesthood or leadership when, in reality, we all have a part. That is why critique that is made simply to denigrate the Church ought to be put in its proper perspective, while constructive and genuine attempts at formation and renewal should be given attention. Mr. Maher’s critique is destructive and based upon shoddy and superficial reasoning (though it rarely is, in fact, ”reasoned” in a fair minded manner).

Those pointing to Maher’s house and lifestyle seem to be committing the Tu quoque fallacy.

Maher’s question – “Does that look anything like anything Jesus Christ had in mind?” – seems a fair one in view of certain teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.

Jesus answered a similar criticism when a woman broke an expensive vile of perfune and annointed Him. See the story in Mathew 26 6-13
“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 for me…”

Jesus allows us to do beautiful things for Him.

I have to make one more point and, please understand, this is not aimed at you.

When speaking of moral authority, the point that should be pondered deeply is what shallow notion of moral authority is being appealed to by Mr. Maher pointing at the Basilica and asking whether Jesus would find it acceptable.

The moral authority of the Church is grounded in 2000 years of the blood, sweat, exhaustion, courage, fortitude, good will and sacrifice of millions of Catholics and the Holy Spirit that has guided them that have preceded us. That is the moral authority at stake. For Mr. Maher to ignore that completely and trade it for a falsely contrived facade power or wealth that he wishes to portray in its place is disingenuous to say the least.

ive just watched the video…

one thing struck me straight away was who is to know that this man is a priest he was interviewing. Maher seemed really rejected when he had been led out of the Vatican.

it was all a set up,in my point of view,no substance what so ever,it was a cheap show to say the very least.

he has to do this to get his face and name noticed?lolololol… well dont they all who do this this line of work.

try again Billy no mates. and do a proper interview.or maybe people see his show is as cheap as his home made videos.

as for the poverty question…peter plato explaines it perfectly well in the video he gave and his posts…:thumbsup:



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