Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Does Sir Rupert Murdoch Tell Us About The Vatican's Relationship With Money?

It could be that today's nouveau riche won't be all that interested in the traditional honors scrambled after by yesterday's nouveau riche.

There's been interesting fall out from some international stories in the last couple of weeks.  Some of those stories have intersecting points of interest for the Church.  One such story is the scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's news empire.  Back in 1998, Murdoch was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory under the sponsorship of Cardinal Mahoney of LA.  At that time Murdoch's then wife Anna was a Catholic and she herself was made a Dame of the Order. These honorary papal knighthoods are interesting in and of themselves, at least as to who is in and who is out, but now some folks think there should be some accountability for membership--and I'm not talking accountability in the financial sense.  The following is from Britian's Catholic Herald:

Debate: Should Rupert Murdoch’s papal knighthood be rescinded?

In 1998 Rupert Murdoch was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory. He had apparently been recommended for the honour by Cardinal Roger Mahony, after giving money to a Church education fund. A year later he donated $10 million to help build Los Angeles Catholic cathedral.

Is it right that papal knighthoods should be awarded in this way? The honour is supposed to recognise a person’s service to the Church. Certainly, Murdoch’s money has helped the Church; but surely there are many, many faithful Catholics, whose tireless service to the Church goes unacknowledged, who deserve to be honoured much more.

And is Rupert Murdoch a person the Church should celebrate? He owns – or did own – a newspaper that lost its moral bearings; he ought to bear some responsibility for that.
On the other hand, rescinding his papal knighthood might be difficult to justify. Other papal knights may also have flaws. Where do you set the bar?
So, should Rupert Murdoch’s papal knighthood be rescinded? Or is it fair to honour someone who has helped the Church financially?


First off I have no doubt Rupert Murdoch will retain his knightly status.  Back in 1831 when Pope Gregory  XVI initiated this entirely lay knightly order, he said this in the inaugural brief:    

"gentlemen of proven loyalty to the Holy See who, by reason of their nobility of birth and the renown of their deeds or the degree of their munificence, are deemed worthy to be honoured by a public expression of esteem on the part of the Holy See"

I wrote yesterday that the Holy See has been right on top the changing economic scene in Europe, and back in 1831 the handwriting was on the wall via old noble money and the burgeoning upstart nouveau riche.  Hence one could achieve Papal Knighthood through the age old notion of noble birth or by the new reality of donating loads of money.  For the Vatican, selling papal nobility kept them connected with the changing scene of wealth and power, and nothing has changed about that 'mission'.

There will be no real reform of Catholicism as a spiritual system until leadership changes it's relationship with money.  Catholicism has to stop rewarding billionaires for donating millions to build cathedrals.  They could start altering this relationship by taking the very tiny step of looking at how those billionaires made the money they donate.  Murdoch has done more to destroy the integrity of Western news media than any other single individual.  He has done more to lower the level of discourse in the West by promoting the soft porn of his tabloids right thru to the ideological venom which now passes for cable news in the US.  If his business practices are seriously being held up as some sort of Catholic notion of chivalrous behavior, it's a form of chivalry with zero basis in the Gospels.

If readers take the time to read some of the comments after the Herald article they might catch a glimmer of where common ground can be found in Catholicism.  It's this notion of how the Vatican relates to wealth.  I don't think we can even begin to address the other multiple expressions of abuse until we start seriously demanding accountabilty for how our leadership relates to the wealth of the world.  There is a spiritual way and a worldly way.  The vast majority of Catholic history has been thoroughly polluted by relating to wealth in the worldly way.  It's past time to try a different path.


  1. To expand upon your post, I'd recommend reading Jason Berry's latest book, "Render Unto Rome." He points out there is a lot the laity does not know about diocesan or Vatican finances.

  2. I concur completely. There is no doubt that the rightward tilt of the Vatican over the past couple of decades has been fueled by cold hard cash from American conservatives.

  3. "fueled by cold hard cash from American conservatives."

    Kevin, Colleen, and all, even though I feel this is true, I have a hard time understanding motives. American conservative political contributions are given to increase profits -- that's a given. But to the Vatican -- profit? power? heavenly indulgences? guilt? I'm still looking for a good grip on this one.

  4. @mjc

    If you are a winner in the existing system you want to conserve institutions, in general. They may have been part of your success. You don't know.

    My friend's father inherited a very important business that employed hundreds of people. He was a good man and for his generosity to the Church he received an honorific title (not the one mentioned). It was duly noted at the time of his death.

    His daughter was, in my opinion, a saint, a very humble, genuine person who might not have had material wealth but she gave her entire heart and soul to her faith. She was never recognized by the hierarchy but her funeral mass was con-celebrated by 10 priests.

    The faithful know when they are in the presence of holiness. They don't need badges, pins, or titles to guide them.


  5. The Vatican is for sale and has been for some time. Rupert paid for his title and I guess he should be able to keep it.

  6. That's more or less my feeling Molly. He paid big money for his title and he should get to keep it.

    mjc, Wealth = power and for eons the Roman Catholic Church has been the biggest power of them all. Kings danced to their tune--and all for the glory of Christ..ahemmm.

    The Vatican saw the handwriting on the wall about how necessary it was going to be to be heavily invested with wealthy families and corporations early in this corporate wealth game. Hence the sudden founding of the Vatican Bank and Cardinal Pacelli's obsession with signing concordats with the fascist powers of Italy, Spain, and Germany. It wasn't only to protect religious freedom, it was to protect hard and liquid assets of not only the Vatican but their joint investments with rich cronies in non fascist countries.

    Communism was the great buggaboo for two reasons: the State owned all the assets and didn't share, and they were godless. I've never been sure which was the driving force behind Pacelli/Pius XII excommunicating communist Russians but failing to do so with any fascist leader, and that leadership included all Catholic Nazi leaders including Hitler.

    There are real worldly reasons Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ were products of fascist Spain and that both targeted the wealthy, especially business and media leaders like Rupert Murdoch and Carlos Slim.

    The Seven Mountain Strategy of New Apostolic Reformation is the protestant attempt to supplant the Roman Catholic Church. I suspect this is why the Vatican really is alarmed at the inroads the NAR has made in South America. None of this is about evangelizing for Jesus. It's about putting dollars in the pockets of religious leadership and using those dollars to control the political and economic future of the globe. Whether fundie Catholic leadership or fundie Protestant leadership rules the roost hardly matters because the outcome will still be the same. "The Poor Will Be With Us" in larger and larger numbers.

  7. Interesting timing on Murdoch's title. He received it then was divorced within the year. (for the second time)

    At Mass today there was an announcement about the RCIA class to start up in the fall. Usually we have four or five candidates each year.

    All this effort to bring a half dozen or so adults into the church and yet there is no outreach program to those Catholics in our community who find themselves on the wrong side of Church policy on divorce, sexual identity etc. I'm sure the same effort would produce 10 times the results.

    Anyway, I often wonder about the hierarchy being so quick to embrace the divorced conservatives from other faiths, like Rupert Murdoch, Newt Gingrich and Deal Hudson. They certainly don't do the same for the ordinary Catholic, you know, the ones without wealth and power.


  8. Fascinating, and disturbing. Thanks, p2p and Colleen. I think I need to read "Render Unto Caesar".

  9. I mean "Rome", of course. Sheesh.

  10. Communism was the great buggaboo for two reasons: the State owned all the assets and didn't share, and they were godless. I've never been sure which was the driving force behind Pacelli/Pius XII excommunicating communist Russians but failing to do so with any fascist leader, and that leadership included all Catholic Nazi leaders including Hitler.
    To add to the Catholic Right's fascist tendencies, I noticed (and responded to) a comment on a Trad blog that championed a "Catholic monarchy" for the United States. After all, it "reasoned," look at what democracy has given us: slavery (I guess that never existed before 1776), debts (Can anyone say Louis XIV and XV?), etc. Now, one crazed individual should not characterize an ideology, but there were 9 "thumbs up" to the call for a Catholic monarchy here. Unbelievable.

  11. Kevin, why do I think those giving the thumbs up for a US Catholic monarchy don't envision themselves as the serfs such shows rest on?

  12. Wait one minute here... a Catholic 'knighthood' was conferred on a non-Catholic? How does that work? But I suppose his not being Catholic - despite being married to a Catholic woman and assuming that marriage rec'd the proper dispensations so she could continue receiving Communion, etc. - would allow him to retain his paid-for title without the dreaded scandal to the Church because he was not a Catholic after all. So it's OK to set the bar far lower for the poor soul.

    Sorry. Much as I'd like to be some days, I'm just not that naive.

    This can't be so much a matter of 1 rule for the rich and powerful and another rule for the rest of us. It is simple cold-blooded opportunistic accumulation of secular wealth - on BOTH sides. Cause you can bet Murdoch took his title to the bank just as much as the church took the $10M.

  13. Veronica, this is a great comment, and no I can't fathom that both sides didn't fully understand they were each take the other's money to the bank. The eligibility rules for this award were changed mid way through JPII's papacy. It was then non Catholics were allowed to receive this award. Murdoch has not been the only non Catholic to receive this award. In the Mahoney ceremony in which Murdoch received his award, Roy Disney and Bob Hope were also honored.