Sir David Barclay (left) and his twin brother Sir Frederick Barclay after receiving their knighthoods in 2001
If you haven't read it Luke Coppen's article in the Spectator Sorry — but Pope Francis is no liberal is well worth reading, he suggests the image of Pope Francis the world has fallen in love with is a liberal media construct. There is one particularly disturbing passage in it that is highly problematic and which I fear Francis will never touch, it is the Church's relationship with the extremely wealthy.
Under Francis, the church is deeply committed to what theologians call ‘the preferential option for the poor’. But in order to opt for the poor, the church has to court the super-rich. A few generous multi-millionaires, for example, fund most of the major Catholic initiatives in England and Wales (including a significant part of Benedict XVI’s state visit in 2010). If just one of them was put off by the distorted ‘Marxist’ image of Francis, the church here would be in trouble.I am not quite sure who these 'super-rich' are, perhaps those who own the 'Catholic media', perhaps the directors or trustees of the Tablet or the Universe, or even Luke's own paper the Catholic Herald. At one time the Church was enthrall to a small group of wealthy Catholic aristocrats, the Duke of Norfolk, the Marquis of Bute, more recently the Brenninkmeijer Trust or the Barclay brothers have come to Church's aid.
The great problem is that the rich have a voice that tends to be heard above the poor and above the voice of Christ. If you are a bishop and you have a pet project: setting up school or some kind of pastoral project or even restoring one's Cathedral, you are more likely to listen to and flatter a rich potential donor than anyone else. If that rich person is in a second marriage, or attached to the Traditional Mass or part of the 'gay lobby' or a liberal or whatever it is an easy temptation to make some 'pastoral' provision or to form one's preaching and teaching to accommodate them. In the past we called this simony and treated it as very grave sin.
The post Vatican II era, littered by numerous 'initiatives' gave a new impetus to such wealthy people.
I suspect that few Catholic journalists will ever 'follow the money' and relate it to the preaching of our bishops. One aspect of ‘the preferential option for the poor’, is that the Church looks to the needs of the vast majority rather than a narrow clique of the wealthy and powerful. Will Francis change this? Well, forgive my cynicism but the radical change that would be necessary is probably beyond him, even if he feels it is necessary. Ernst & Young have just be given the contract to oversee Vatican finances, perhaps making the wealthy our friends might be the best way of dealing with them, we might even be able to influence them. The problem in E & W is, I suspect, the wealthy and the powerful have had more influence on us than we on them. Bishops enjoy being in their company and rarely make demands on them, other than signature on a cheque or photo opportunity.
Now, who is coming for dinner this weekend?