Q: Would Jesus Christ recognize our
Catholic Church as the one that he
established? I think the Church is way too
occupied with money and finances. Why all
the new, fancy and large edifices? Why all
the fascination with art and liturgy?
The Mass is perfect as it is—stop trying
to reinvent the wheel. Stop talking about
“liturgically impoverished” and use the
money to feed the poor and keep the small
country parishes open instead of closing
The News Briefs section of the “Church
in the News” column in your September
issue noted the Vatican’s 2006 budget surplus
of more than $3.2 million. It said that
the Peter’s Pence collection is used mainly
for the pope’s charitable giving.
Laypeople deserve a full disclosure of
where and how the Church’s money is
spent. Perhaps the best thing that could
happen to the Catholic Church would be
to be completely, financially bankrupt so
that we could start all over and take Jesus’
word to heart—without all the baggage of
art and music. Did Jesus intend that huge
amounts of money be paid to artists and
musicians or that the hierarchy have fancy
As a cradle Catholic of 77 years, I have
not publicly criticized the Church, but I’m
silent no more.
A: Because members of the Catholic
Church live in space and
time, they need to gather somewhere
to pray and grow in their faith. Before
Christianity was legalized in the fourth
century, Jesus’ followers gathered in
one another’s homes or in catacombs.
As Christianity grew, churches were
built, both to praise God in their beauty
and to provide a sacred space where
people, rich or poor, could come to
This does not mean that every current
building project is justified or is
in good taste. Dioceses usually have
building commissions to ensure that
churches, schools and other parish
buildings reflect what the diocese and
the Church at large expect. Parish finance
commissions and parish councils
help establish local budgets. Religious
communities must receive approval to
construct their buildings.
In recent years, dioceses, parishes
and religious communities within the
Catholic Church have become more
public and accountable about money
collected and spent. Our January “Church in the News” column reported
on new measures that the U.S. bishops
enacted last November concerning
parish and diocesan finances.
Expenses for religious art and music
clearly bother you. No individual is making
a fortune; in fact, some composers
have suffered because their original
works have been reproduced illegally. As
far as I know, most dioceses and parishes
are now paying the required licensing
fees for what they use.
On another point, what you describe
as “perfect as it is” is, in fact, the result
of centuries of evolution. The Church
and its Eucharist exist in space and
time. The Church addresses the issue of
needless tinkering through identifying
who is competent to make which
changes and within what parameters.
In the past, some dioceses have covered
for parish building and staffing
debts. That is changing. No bishop is
happy to close a rural, suburban or city
parish, but sometimes that is the most
responsible decision under the circumstances.
The Holy See’s $3.2 million surplus
for 2006 would be huge for an individual
but is hardly excessive for a
Church with over 1.1 billion members.
Some years there has been a deficit.
The pope makes modest contributions
when tsunamis, earthquakes or other
natural disasters wreak havoc.
The National Leadership Roundtable
on Church Management, established
in 2004 and featured in our September
2007 issue, is helping U.S. dioceses
with their financial and personnel policies.
One of the first scandals recorded in
Acts of the Apostles involved money (5:1-11). Sin is very present among the
Church’s members, who rely on the
Gospels to help them name sin for
what it is—and repent of it.
No Mass for That Wedding?
Q: My daughter was recently married
to a wonderful young man who
has never been baptized. She was surprised
to find out that the wedding could
not occur in the context of a Mass because
their marriage is not recognized as a sacrament.
I have never heard of such a thing!
I am angry and confused.
A: This situation arises often now.
The Catholic Church understands
the Sacrament of Matrimony to
be possible only between a baptized
man and a baptized woman. A baptized
person may marry an unbaptized
person with the proper dispensation
(permission from the local bishop). Or
two unbaptized people can marry.
These couples may have a wonderful
marriage, but it is not a sacrament,
which baptized men and women confer
on one another.
The Catholic Church’s Rite of Marriages
states that, when one party is
not a baptized Christian, the wedding
should occur outside the Eucharist but
according to that ritual.
This regulation, in effect for many
years, shows no lack of respect for your
daughter’s marriage. It simply acknowledges
that the scriptural imagery of
husbands and wives loving each other
as Christ loves the Church—and vice
versa—is not appropriate when one
spouse is not a Christian.
Your daughter’s faith is positively influencing
your son-in-law. If he joins
her in that faith, their marriage can be
celebrated as a sacrament.
Q: What is the difference between
research on stem cells from animals,
adult humans and embryos? Are all
of these sins? Does the Bible address this
issue? I regret that I am not very well
informed about these serious issues.
A: Research on animals sometimes
identifies treatments that can
be adapted for humans. Animal research
needs to be conducted ethically
as well as scientifically.
Stem cells from adult humans (and
this includes stem cells obtained from
umbilical cords) have been shown to be
effective for some conditions. Mary Jo
Dangel’s editorial in our May 2007 issue
the issues involved.
The Catholic Church has opposed
research that uses embryonic stem cells
because this is human life created simply
as a means to obtain such stem
cells. This is not ethical because it suggests
that human life at that stage can
be ended for the sake of research.
Our January 2002 issue contained
Thomas Shannon’s article “Stem-cell
Research and Catholic Teaching.”
Last November, Catholic News Service
reported that the journals Cell and
Science had published articles about
two studies showing that human skin
cells can be preprogrammed to work as
effectively as embryonic stem cells in
reproducing any of the 220 types of
cells in the human body.
Shinya Yamanaka (Kyoto University,
Japan) and Junying Yu and James
Thomson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) conducted these studies.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center
(www.ncbcenter.org) in Philadelphia
said of these studies, “The
methods outlined in these papers fully
conform to what we have hoped to see
for some time. Such strategies should
continue to be pursued and strongly
promoted, as they should help to steer
the entire field of stem-cell research in
a more explicitly ethical direction by
circumventing the moral quagmire
associated with destroying human
Q: My three grandsons are all living with young women to whom they
are not married. They have children. I have several friends who
share a similar heartache. They tell me that they have sprinkled
each baby and baptized them. Can I do this?
A: I understand the heartache that your great-grandchildren
have not been baptized, but I cannot advise you to baptize
them secretly, without their parents’ knowledge or permission.
Unbaptized children can be saved (see Catechism of the Catholic
Church, #1261). When the Church baptizes an infant, it asks parents or
those presenting the child about their willingness to raise the child as a
Catholic. If that readiness does not exist, the priest may decline to celebrate
the Sacrament of Baptism then.
You may have expected me to recommend baptizing them. Please do
not underestimate the power of your good example. Children are sometimes
more influenced by the faith of grandparents (great-grandmother
in your case) than by the apparent lack of faith of their parents.
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