An imagined letter from a parish priest to 'Dives' wonderng whether it would be right to offer Communion to this very wealthy man. 1171 words
Dear Sir Dives,
Thank you for our conversation at the week-end. I have pondered all you said to me. May I now say where the matter stands?
i. Your board has offered you a salary increase to £400,000.
ii. This offer has become public knowledge in the locality. Your acceptance, or refusal, will therefore be in the public forum.
iii. Because such salaries are, as I tried to explain, incompatible with Jesus’ teaching and the long-standing teaching of the Church, I consider that your acceptance would be a public stand against what the Eucharist signifies. (You would be in flagrante delicto, as we used to say).
iv. If you do accept I would therefore ask you not to come to communion in this parish where you are known
When we met you explained to me that such salary decisions are simply a question of supply and demand in human skills. They are simply the going rate for the job you are doing. You spoke as if the whole matter had nothing to do with morality.
I understand well enough that this is the language of the day. It is a powerful language, and very seductive, but does it not refuse to accept the truth of what is really happening?
If, for instance, your time is really worth £200 an hour to your company, should your board not be equally concerned for all those who enable you to work as you do? The taxi driver who gets you there on time, your secretary who lines everything up, the woman who washes up in the restaurant where you have business lunches? And what of the many people in your earlier life who have enabled you to have a clear and creative mind: your teachers and lecturers at college, and that tutor who meant so much to you? What is this idea of private skills? What have you that you have not received?
That simple market language also refuses to accept that your excessive salary is at other people’s expense. Your customers’ expense for whom prices could be lower (helping to beat inflation which you see as arch-enemy). Your employees’ expense, for whom wages could be higher. Your suppliers’ expense. The tin miners in Bolivia, whose tin is used in your products, earn in six months what you are being offered for one hour. But their labour is no less necessary to your enterprise.
As your parish priest I feel I should make it clear that the Church’s social teaching has never accepted that human labour, manual or mental, is simply a commodity for buying and selling in the market place.
Before making your decision I would recommend you to read parts of Gaudium et Spes (from Vatican II) and three subsequent letters: Populorum Progressio (of Pope Paul VI) and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesiumus Annus (of the present Pope). There is a common theme in these documents: that all created goods are ordered to the common good in which every person has a right to share. Let me quote one passage:
“The recent Council reminded us that ‘God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of every person and all peoples, so created goods should flow fairly to all, regulated by justice and accompanied by charity.‘ All other rights whatsoever, including those of property and of free commerce, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should not hinder but… favour its application… “ (See end-note)
To quote St Ambrose (addressing the rich) “What has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” That is, private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right… In a word ‘according to the traditional doctrine as found in the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians, the right to property must never by exercised to the detriment of the common good’. (Populorum Progressio, paras 22,23)
That was Paul VI and the present pope refers to ‘structures of sin’ which the ‘virtue of solidarity’ calls on each of us to counter in our personal and collective lives.
I am sure – I can hear you say it! – that all this is news to you. And why did no one say it before?
And of course you are right. We clergy have not found ways of helping people make this teaching their own. We shall be judged for that, God help us. But it is not our sole responsibility. At a time when so many voices are saying that this is an age of the laity they can’t mean simply laity doing what ‘father’ has been doing in running parishes. Surely they mean (or do they?) laity evangelising the decisions and stances of daily life – in your case, that of the business world.
We clergy have recently been nudged to dissuade people who are divorced - & - remarried from receiving communion, at least where their position is known. I would not be able to act on that nudge in their cases unless I was also willing to act in yours. The Church’s teaching about the gospel imperative to be content with what you need and live in solidarity with the dispossessed, is far older and better founded than its teaching about remarried divorcees.
It was, for instance, one of the issues in Corinth. Well-to-do Christians were trying to accommodate their Christian faith to the norms and expectations of their pagan associates. Paul teases them into seeing that God had chosen, not the established ones but those whom the world holds as nothing, to bring about his new order. And later he goes on to warn them that if they do not discern the body as a whole, but buy into an elitist language and behaviour, they had better not go to communion. They would be ‘eating and drinking damnation’ to themselves.
I would not wish, as your pastor, to co-operate by my silence in your damnation. It would be mine also.
Fr. Zaccchoens (p.p)
(Submitted by a small ecumenical group in Liverpool, including a few parish clergy)
A question posed by a friend who read this draft, but not developed in this paper by Tom:
(Considering the need to pay high salaries to retain the high quality and calibre of senior executives as part of free commerce) In the “real world” of the market place that is probably a fact. The question surely is what does a Christian do in that position when faced with “self-evident free market principles”? Is it enough to accept the salary and give half of it to CAFOD and so maintaining a personal purity? Or does the market trend have to be touched if the Church’s social teaching is to be authentically applied?
Was Tony Blair’s refusal of the MP’s salary increase an example of ‘bucking the trend’ or just a party-political stunt? Is it an example other Christian socialists should follow?