Is that a Cross of Gold?
Pope Benedict XVI
September 14, 2008; Lourdes, France
Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
As a consequence, we can witness throughout history constant contradictions and conflict within Christianity over wealth and power. Christian leaders have regularly preached against greed and wealth and on behalf of the poor and powerless, but they have done so from richly apportioned churches and only rarely make any overt moves against the status quo -- moves which would have threatened the power of political and social leaders they heavily rely upon. Pope Benedict XVI doesn't break any new ground here, continuing in a long and depressing tradition.
Paraphrasing from the New Testament, Benedict decried “insatiable greed” and said “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
“Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?” the pope asked.
Benedict blasted modern society’s thirst for these new “pagan” idols as a “scandal, a real plague.” The pope urged the faithful to “shun the worship of idols. Do not tire of doing good!”’
Pope Benedict XVI Christmas Night Mass
St. Peter's Basilica, December 24, 2007
Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
To be fair, the Catholic Church probably isn't quite as wealthy as some people seem to assume. There surely aren't any vaults in the Vatican basement, filled with gold and silver that's being hoarded. There aren't billion-dollar Swiss bank accounts just accruing interest. On the other hand, there is a tremendous wealth of property, art, and related items. Popes don't live in "luxury" in the sense that we think of when we think of rich people in America, surrounded by the latest electronic gadgets, but they do live surrounded by inimitable architecture and art.
This means that there is a strong impression of contradiction and hypocrisy when such a powerful, well-off organization presumes to not only tell others that they should stop loving wealth and power so much, but actually dares to describe such attitudes as "pagan." Love of wealth and power is human, not pagan, which means that it can be found in every religious, political, and economic system. Benedict's denunciation might as well have been of "Jewish" idols, but how would that have gone over?