In light of the recent fire that devastated the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, there were many things that occurred in response to this event that felt very disturbing to me and highlight both the current and historical hypocrisies that exist in our business and geopolitical landscapes.
Soon after the blaze was extinguished and the damage was assessed, there was a groundswell of support to fund the rebuilding of the structure after the French president Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild the structure within the next five years.
“Major donations kicked off the evening of the fire, with French billionaires (and often competitors) Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault pledging €100 million and €200 million, respectively. Over the next few days, companies like L’Oreal, Société Générale, and JCDecaux all made multi-million dollar pledges” the New York Times reported, “bringing the total donations up to €850 million, or about $995 million. That was all before American companies like Apple chipped in, bringing the total donations to more than $1 billion.” (1)
Archpriest Nikolai V. Balashov, the vice chairman of the department of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, called the fire “a huge tragedy for the whole Christian world,” and said that Russians value “these wonders of the old God’s world, these remnants of holy wonders.” (2)
It is very telling that we can raise $1 billion dollars virtually overnight to fix a building but can turn a blind eye to the many challenges that real human beings are experiencing. Thousands of people lined the streets of Paris and the Seine river to mourn the destruction of the Notre Dame cathedral (once again, a building, not a person) while in their own country the rates of the above social issues continue to rise. Where is the public out cry to fundraise for these problems?
And on that note, another very telling fact is that Pope Francis himself, the global leader of the Catholic church, is not contributing one cent to the restoration of the burned cathedral of Notre Dame, which has been a major landmark symbolising the Catholic church for 860 years. The pope stated after the fire in words sent to the Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris:
“Following the fire that ravaged a large part of Notre Dame Cathedral, I join you in your sorrow, as well as that of the faithful of your diocese, the inhabitants of Paris, and all the French people.” (3)
Instead of money, he only offered his prayers to the inhabitants of France and those mourning the partial loss of the structure at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Most estimates of the current net wealth of the Vatican alone place it between $10 -15 billion, but the total wealth of the Catholic Church worldwide, with all its real estate holdings (that combined are as large as the Canadian province of Alberta), investments in virtually every aspect of business and finance, and all its parishes across the globe is almost impossible to determine due to the secrecy and lack of accountability of religious organisations, but it has been stated by a nationally syndicated Catholic priest that:
“The Catholic church, he said, must be the biggest corporation in the United States. We have a branch office in every neighborhood. Our assets and real estate holdings must exceed those of Standard Oil, A.T.&T., and U.S. Steel combined. And our roster of dues-paying members must be second only to the tax rolls of the United States Government.” To add to this statement another financial analyst noted; “But this is just a small portion of the wealth of the Vatican, which in the U.S. alone is greater than that of the five wealthiest giant corporations of the country. When to that is added all the real estate, property, stocks and shares abroad, then the staggering accumulation of the wealth of the Catholic church becomes so formidable as to defy any rational assessment.” (4)
Let’s not forget that the Catholic Church does not pay any taxes, including capital gains and property taxes, and all the donations that go to them are tax free. These tax savings amount to several billion dollars a year. With the facts stated above, and this is only scratching the surface of the total wealth of the Catholic Church, the fact that the Pope has not offered one cent to the reconstruction of the Notre Dame cathedral is an act of greed almost beyond any scale that could be imagined and exposes the corruption that has fuelled this religious organisation since its inception.
Another graphic display of this corruption displayed by the Catholic Church can be found when in 2012 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia, Canada sold 250 properties and liquidated its assets to pay a $15-million settlement for sexual abuse involving clergy Rev. Raymond Lahey.
“… the bishop [Rev Raymond Lahey] who brokered the multimillion-dollar sex-abuse settlement deal, was then sentenced to 15 months in custody after he was charged with the possession of child pornography. Phyllis MacDonald, a member of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Port Hood, Nova Scotia stated, “Now we have to raise money to keep above ground, to keep our parishes going, to pay for heat in the church.” Ms. MacDonald said the settlement, which has forced cash-strapped parishes to give nearly all their reserves to the diocese, should be paid by the top level of the church hierarchy, the Vatican. “They came like thieves in the night to take our money and they took it away without even blinking an eye,” Ms. Samson, a former Catholic nun and active member of her parish in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia said. “It’s a shame. It’s our parents that worked to place [the churches] there and our grandparents, and they don’t care. They just have to sell them.” But the church said there is no alternative source. “We have no indication that the Vatican sees or is able to do something,” said Rev. Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the Diocese of Antigonish based in New Glasgow, on the eastern mainland.”(5)
This seems like the Vatican is punishing the people that comprise these local Catholic parishes by making them pay for a massive child sex abuse settlement when they could easily cover the cost for a case like this that involves one of their own employees. It also sends a message to the local people as a deterrent for others to speak up, lest they all have to pay out of their own pockets for something like this in the future.
When we respond to these events I feel it is important to consider the whole picture and exactly what type of organisation we are providing support for, especially when considering monetary donations. And in the case of the Notre Dame cathedral after the current fire that partially destroyed it, let’s allow the richest organisation in the world to pay for its own building’s restoration and consider that this fire may have been a karmic sign of all that the Catholic Church has been responsible for during its history of torture, war, child sexual abuse, slavery, and financial corruption. Because when we support a project and an organisation like this in any way, we are by default condoning the very deleterious behaviour that we would never want to have in our society.