By David Waters
Comedian Sarah Silverman says Pope Benedict should “sell the Vatican, feed the world.” Funny, but shouldn’t Christians seriously consider it?
“What is the Vatican worth, like $500 billion?” Silverman says on her monologue, featured on Bill Maher’s HBO show and now a YouTube sensation. “This is great, sell the Vatican, take a big chunk of the money, build a gorgeous condominium for you and all your friends to live in . . . and with the money left over, feed the whole f—ing world.”
Actually, selling the Vatican probably wouldn’t generate enough cash to buy the whole world lunch.
According to the AP’s Nicole Winfield, the Holy See’s real estate was worth about $900 million in 2004 — before the real estate bust. That doesn’t include St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, but even if both brought holy sites brought in another billion, that wouldn’t come close to covering it. The UN reports that poor countries get $7.9 billion in agricultural aid each year, and will need $44 billion a year by 2050.
Some Catholics were understandably offended by Silverman’s bit, and not just by her profanity. “Silverman’s assault on Catholicism is just another example of HBO’s corporate irresponsibility,” the Catholic League complained. “Silverman’s filthy diatribe would never be allowed if the chosen target were the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the state of Israel.”
Other Catholics were intrigued. “Jesus started the trend by telling his followers, ‘If anyone wishes to be perfect, sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21),’” Rev. James Martin wrote on his blog for America magazine. “Perhaps Ms. Silverman, in her postmodern, potty-mouthed way is on to something. Like Jesus was. Sell the Vatican? Well, maybe not everything but perhaps a statue or two?”
Wouldn’t hurt. But as the Catholic League points out, “The Catholic Church operates more hospitals and feeds more of the poor than any private institution in the world.” Could it do more by selling its headquarters? What about all its branches worldwide? In fact, how much could the world’s two billion Christians raise if they sold all of their church-related properties and gave the money to the poor?
Coincidentally, last Sunday’s Catholic gospel reading was from the same 10th chapter of Mark, which includes this verse: “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’”
Note that he was speaking to his disciples.