In the local newspaper today there are two stories involving priests and money. One focuses on a British priest, the other on an American priest. The story on page 6 states that a priest in England is receiving harsh criticism for having stated in sermon that the desperately poor are morally justified in shoplifting to survive. He added that this should only apply to large chain stores and not small, family-run businesses. On page 11 is the story of an American priest who won $100,000 in a televised poker tournament. Since the money is being given to the parish it is a light-hearted human-interest story.
What I find disturbing in all of this is the larger message. Yes, priests need to be involved in the financial affairs of the world — we’ve created a culture so focused on money that it is impossible to avoid it. Yet the distinct tone of the news stories is telling. The priest advocating shoplifting to save the poor is suspect since he challenges modern mores of property ownership. The Bible advocates landowners leaving some of their hard-earned crops for the destitute to glean. The priest who won an enormous pot playing a game is simply a creative individual raising church funds in new ways. The Bible states nothing about gambling for money. Somehow I can’t reconcile the two stories.
Everyone feels the economic pinch in hard times, but few in our society really know what it means to experience true deprivation. Would it not be better if the church could devise a system that ensured fair allocations of resources without having to advise petty theft or playing one’s cards close to the clerical collar?