The World Would Be Better Without the Vatican

Isbel Diaz Torres

Poster from the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba in March 2012.

HAVANA TIMES — After Pope Ratzinger announced his resignation, Mexican analyst Pedro Echeverria wondered — making good sense in my opinion — “What if they didn’t choose another pope, and the Vatican disappeared? Just think how much money and trouble that would save.”

With the Vatican standing as one of the few surviving monarchies in the 21st century, Echeverria wrote an article (in Spanish) that provides some of the most basic criticisms historically leveled at that center of Catholicism.

Internal political problems are the first ones he points out. These refer mainly to the highly publicized scandals relating to pedophilia, the mafia and banking scams that have systematically involved the church at all levels.

The article cites the examples of cleric pedophiles that in 2010 put into question the churches of Ireland, the United States, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Mexico. Even the Pope found himself accused of having “covered up “priests during his tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Another example that brought discredit to the church was the 1980s bankruptcy of the famous Banco Ambrosiano (whose main shareholder was the Vatican). This was a story that connected the mafia, the world of high finance, Freemasonry and religion in illicit operations that implicated the Holy See, which paid $241 million to its creditors to silence the scandal.

But what seemed to influence Echeverria the most in his proposal for a world without the Vatican are the ostensible financial funds of that supranational institution. His article suggests a figure of around one billion euros, of which only 20 percent are used for charitable purposes.

The Italian central government alone (without including regions, provinces and municipalities) annually provides the Vatican $478 million in salaries for religious teachers, $258 million to finance Catholic schools, $44 million for five Catholic universities, $25 million for water supply services to the Vatican City, $20 million for the Opus Dei Biomedical college, $19 million for religion teachers, $18 million for vouchers to Catholic schools, $19 million for the social security fund for Vatican employees and their family members, $9 million for the rehabilitation of religious buildings, $8 million for the salaries of military chaplains, $7 million for the clergy welfare fund, $5 million for the Padre Pio Hospital, $2.5 million to fund chapels, and $2 million for the construction of places of worship.

All of this excludes the donations it receives and the contributions from all of the Catholic churches in the world, as well as its invaluable art treasures, economic contributions from other states, personal and corporate donations of Catholics, and the substantial income generated from church-owned properties.

Echeverria believes the disappearance of the Vatican would contribute huge riches that could create millions of jobs and pull millions of human beings out of poverty and hunger.

I can do nothing more than agree, however there’s an essential dimension of this issue that I’d like to stress. It’s related to the urgent need to radically change relationships between individuals and institutions, and that includes the church.

Such a top-down, centralized, deeply patriarchal and discriminatory scheme can only be a burden to humanity in our quest for freedom, full spirituality, individual autonomy and sovereignty at every level.

Despite the cynical tone of comments by journalist Walter Martinez this past Wednesday on TeleSur when referring to recent protest against homophobia by French feminists in the cathedral of Notre Dame, what’s certain is that events in the Holy See have served to encourage such anti-clerical activists.

On the other hand, my affectionate relations with Catholics have demonstrated to me the moral and spiritual wealth of many individuals who share that belief, as well as the immense potential for transformation they process.

They are intelligent and sensitive people, capable of recognizing the profound contradictions of the system of which they are a part. Likewise, they are willing to offer and conduct daring, iconoclasts, liberating initiatives in the Catholic churches of Cuba, in the rest of Latin America and across Europe.

I’ve known and admired them for their personal values, but also for their being revolutionaries (I’m applying this term as distinct from its Manichean sense, worn down and contaminated by the Cuban government’s sense of using it).

I think they’re being called to move forward to define the changes needed by their spiritual system, distant from the backward, prudish and often reactionary thinking of their elites.

For example, Josep Taberner, the rector of the Sant Pere de Figueres parish, indicates that the church’s base will appreciate the gesture of Benedict XVI and declared: “His predecessors never wanted to resign; therefore his resignation will shake up the church in many areas.”

“In the church there are more factions than a political party (…) if a pope emerges from South America perhaps that could be a hopeful sign,” added the priest.

In my view, the hypothetical disappearance of the Vatican — more than money for pulling the poor out of misery but maintaining them in the currently prevailing system of domination — would serve as an example of the de-concentration of power and the dilution of hegemonies.

I’m not so naive as to think that the current situation was the intention of the Vatican or that it’s an act of humility on the part of Ratzinger (whose physical condition prevents him from continuing his term).

Instead, I believe this has reduced the invulnerability of the system somewhat, allowing people to dream of different and other futures.

A ray of light has fallen on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope will recover more from heart surgery before leaving office… those who like transcendental incentives have the table set.