Better Than Selling Indulgences

Early in His ministry, Jesus spoke to a multitude in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. His teaching included an admonition concerning material riches:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, KJV)

In this passage, Messiah is telling people not to accumulate to themselves great riches, but rather to use their financial assets in God's service. He warns that our hearts will follow our treasure.

Apparently, the Roman Church has had a little trouble following this advice. She has been accumulating and hoarding earthly treasure for centuries, often by the most ungodly means imaginable. History abounds with tales of murder, torture and confiscation as the Roman popes sought to establish and maintain a Catholic hegemony throughout the known world.

These scandalous goings-on became increasingly egregious with the offering by Sixtus IV (1471-1484) of indulgences for the dead. This gave rise to an infinite source of revenue for the avaricious RCC hierarchy. Greatest of the indulgence peddlers was a Dominican monk named Johann Tetzel, whose preaching generated enormous income for his bishop and for Rome.

This indulgence was highly respected. When the commissioner was welcomed to town, the papal bull was carried on velvet or gold cloth. All the priests, monks, councilmen, teachers, pupils, men, women, maids, and children went to meet him singing in solemn procession with flags and candles. The bells tolled and when he entered the church the organ played. A red Cross was put up in the middle of the church to which the Pope's banner was affixed. In short: even God himself could not have been welcomed and received more beautifully. (Friedrich Myconius, Historia reformationis, p. 14; quoted by Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Reformation, Harper & Row, Inc (1964)

The abuses of the RCC, and particularly those of the indulgence vendors, eventually gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. One would think that the Roman popes would have learned something from the uproar and splitting away of so many former Catholic faithful, but they didn't. Instead, the RCC hierarchy concentrated on consolidating its position and on efforts to root out and eliminate 'schismatics.' By every imaginable means. The terror of the Inquisition was invoked increasingly to maintain RCC ascendancy in what was called the Christian world.

Over time, world events weakened Rome's stranglehold on the nations of the Western world and she eventually had to suppress the Inquisition, but she continued, through the labors of militant popes, her efforts to retain and add to her worldly treasures. Perhaps the most infamous modern examples of Rome's willingness to make a pact with the devil in order to keep her goods and some vestiges of her once great power were the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which secured nation-state status for the Vatican) and Rome's 1933 Concordat with Hitler's Reich (An attempt to protect RCC interests in Germany)

Rome still manages to make a buck here and there. Ex-Catholic monk Joseph McCabe reports that, when Rome canonized Thomas More, she sent a bill to English Catholics seeking payment of $65,000 to cover the costs of canonization and asking for another $20,000 to buy a gift for the Pope. Not bad.

Not too long ago, I learned of what may be the most innovative money-raising scheme yet. It appears to me to be something on the order of a modified tontine. For those who may not be familiar with the term, a tontine is an investment plan in which the participants buy shares in a common fund and receive an annuity that gets larger as the participants die off. When there is but one remaining member, he gets all the remaining money. Enlightened governments tend to discourage the creation of tontines as they may be viewed as tempting schemes by unscrupulous persons who might act to hasten the shrinking of the group.

According to a copyrighted article in the San Antonio Express-News, the folks at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio came up with a scheme that had the potential to earn millions for the church.

Under the proposed plan, the Basilica would create a foundation that would pay the premiums on individual $275,000 life insurance policies for as many as 1,000 parishioners. When one of the covered people dies, $25,000 would go to the family and a cool quarter of a million dollars would go to the Basilica through the proposed St. Therese Foundation. According to church officials, this plan could have generated as much as $250 million over the succeeding 50 or so years.

According to a superior of the Carmelite Order that operates the Basilica, earnings generated by this program would help support the church and its school and a scholarship fund.

Folks at the Texas Department of Insurance didn't seem to be as excited about the proposal as were its originators and began reviewing state statutes. A local tax attorney was quoted as saying that the proposal "doesn't pass the smell test."

Several years ago, they got more than 1,000 members of their predominantly Hispanic Catholic parish, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, to allow the church to insure their lives. But the Carmelites called the deal off, because the insurer, John Hancock Financial Services Inc., couldn't explain to their satisfaction how the church would make money, says Father Ralph Reyes, who was superior of the Carmelite house in San Antonio at the time. John Hancock declined to comment. (Theo, Francis & Schultz, Ellen E., Dying to Donate: Charities Invest in Death Benefits, (C) "The Wall Street Journal," Updated February 6, 2003)

One question apparently involved the issue of 'insurable interest,' which is defined as:

. . .an important concept in life insurance. At the time a life insurance policy is purchased, there must be an expectation of a monetary loss by the person purchasing the insurance that would result from the death of the person that is insured. The insurable interest need not necessarily exist at the time of the death of the insured. An individual has an unlimited insurable interest in his/her own life. An insurable interest may not only exist between family members, like husband and wife, parent and child, but also between business partners, creditor and debtor and employer and employees. (Thanks to Data Life Associates, Inc., who provided this definition on their Insurance Cybermal)

Looks to me like some folks in the RCC hierarchy are still looking for ways to make money off the dead. James wrote an opinion concerning such people:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. (James 5:1-6, KJV)

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