Why does the Catholic Church not give its wealth to the poor
A very similar question was posed to Jesus after a woman with a sinful reputation had proceeded to pour an excessive amount of expensive oil over Our Lord's feet (Jn 12: 1-7). A man present asked why the money that was spent on the extravagant oil could not have been used for the poor instead. The questioner's name was Judas Iscariot, Jesus' betrayer. [Radio Replies]
The vast majority of Catholics in the world are poor. Yet they remain Catholic. Poor Catholics do not blame the Church for their poverty; they know their poverty is not the fault of the Church, but rather their corrupt governments or unjust social systems that exist in their countries. In fact, the Church is regarded by the poor as a champion of their cause as is proven by the millions of poor people who turn out to see the Pope during his many visits to poor countries.
It is significant that champions of the poor such as St Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa (to name only two of the millions of generous Catholics that ever lived) never felt tempted to leave the Church because of its opulence.
In Jn 12:8 Jesus Himself tells us that we will always have poor people with us. This statement does not of course mean that anyone ought to close their eyes to poverty, but it does mean that, because of the sin in the world, resources will never be fairly shared. There is no institution on Earth that has done more to minimise this state of affairs than the Catholic Church. No organisation has done more for the needy of the world than the Catholic Church. The many Catholic Religious Orders that were founded specifically for the materially poor are testimony to the generosity of the Church.
Even if the Church did sell all its priceless artifacts and gave the money to the poor, the proceeds would be a drop in the ocean of the world-poverty problem. The Vatican's wealth would provide hardly more than a day's sustenance for the millions of poor people in the world. The poor would be in need again the following day, and the unique treasures that give glory to God would have fallen into the hands of private individuals and would probably be no longer available to the public.
The Church's clerical and Religious personnel is composed mainly of people who do not earn money. The vow of poverty that many of them take means often that they work on a nominal allowance or none at all. The Church has always required money to support these people, if it did away with all its wealth it would lose its secular power and thus reduce its positive material influence in the world. Even Christ taught us to use money, tainted as it is (Lk 16:9).
While the Catholic Church does own many valuable works of art and historical treasures, it serves only as a depository for them. It was the Church that saved these masterpieces from barbarian invaders centuries ago, and it is the Church that preserves them today for all to enjoy. To whom should the Church sell the Sistene Chapel? Where else ought such a treasure of Christianity be, but in the Vatican?
The Catholic Church, as an overall organisation, is not wealthy in the usual sense of the word. Its worldwide network of churches, schools, convents, monasteries, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly, the troubled and the dying are not used to make anyone rich; they are used to bring the teachings and the love of God to every nation. It costs a lot of money to operate these non-profit agencies.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once suggested that critics of the Church's wealth never seem to make the same demands of governments and museums. He wondered if these critics really cared for the poor, or could it be that their antagonism emanated from their distaste of other aspects of the Church (eg its moral teachings). [Catholic Replies]
* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.