Financial Privileges for Christians and Churches


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    Be it considered that God hath committed His sheep to our Holy Father to be fed, not to be shorn....
    Complaint to Pope Gregory XI, 1376


    In the early Church financial contributions were purely voluntary. Soon emperors made grants of public money to the Church*. This position changed as soon as the Church had acquired sufficient power, when payment became compulsory for all. The ostensible idea was that the proceeds should go to the relief of the poor. To this end the Church collected tithes amounting to a tenth part of the produce of lands, the stock on those lands, and the personal industry of the occupiers.

    Biblical authority was found to justify payment to the clergy, though the passages in question had to be stretched beyond their literal meaning. For example "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" (Deuteronomy 25:4). If even oxen were entitled to the occasional mouthful of people's food then surely a priest was also entitled. St Paul had quoted this passage to justify the fact that he did not need to work for his living (1 Corinthians 9:9), and priests did likewise. Old translations of the bible sometimes have a heading inserted before the text which says something like "Tithes Divinely Instituted" - designed to lead the unwary into accepting the imposture.

    From one of hundreds of Christian websites extolling the benefits of tithing

    The idea of taking a tenth part of a wide range of goods was borrowed from Leviticus 27:30-32, ten per cent being the proportion that was supposed to be holy unto the Lord. Ten per cent of the gross domestic product of Christendom represented an enormous amount of money. The tax was levied on all, including non-Christians. It was paid on corn, hay, all of Earth's fruits, animals, even wine. Some bishops extended it to handicrafts. As soon as windmills were invented the Church was arguing that since God created the wind, tithes should be paid by wind-millars. The idea was confirmed by a decretal of Pope Celestine III around 1191 after a knight disputed the Church's right to tax the output of his new mill.

    Abbey Tithe Barn Glastonbury
    At fisrt glance this looks like a church, but it is a tithe barn, built to hold huge quantities
    of agricultural produce paid to the Church under the Tithe system.

    By the early Middle Ages the whole tithe system was being badly abused. As a leading authority says: "Owing to the machinations of the monks in the Middle Ages, the tithes were very largely drawn into the coffers of religious houses, and the parochial clergy were deprived of them"*. The pastoral role of the Church became not so much to shepherd their sheep as to fleece them. The tax was enforced, where necessary, in the Church courts. Anyone who failed to pay was liable to be excommunicated, and if they persisted, all their property was forfeit a year later. When large groups, like the Cathars of the Languedoc, refused to pay their tithes, a crusade would soon follow. Those who resisted would be massacred. Survivers who persisted would be burned at the stake. One way or another, their property ended up in the hands of tithe payers, or more often in the hands of the Church itself.

    In Western Christendom the obligation had been made universal and legally binding by Charlemagne. The only ones exempted from payment were the Church itself and the Crown. If the traditional relationship between Church and State has been symbiotic, that between Church and populace has traditionally been parasitic. The people paid taxes to the Church, but the Church did not pay taxes to the State. In 1296 Pope Boniface VIII published a bull, Clericis laicos, that forbade the clergy to pay taxes to secular powers.

    One of the many passages still cited by rapacious Churches to induce believers to hand over 10%, 25% or even 50% of their income, claiming that the more you give the Church, the more God will give you.

    Passages like Leviticus 27:30-32 could also be used to justify taking the first fruits, or annates. The Pope as head of the Church claimed to be entitled to the whole of the first year's profits of a spiritual endowment*. Up until the Reformation a large portion of Europe's wealth found its way to the Pope under the terms of this tax.

    Tithe Barns are much larger than ordinary barns,
    because they need to hold dozens or hundred times as much as ordinary barns

    For many centuries the whole of Western Christendom funded the excesses of corrupt French and Italian families who competed with each other to control the papacy. Churchmen enjoyed a huge proportion of the fruits of economic production throughout Christendom. In the popular mind, bishops and archbishops were oppressers just as much as the Sheriff of Nottingham. In a ballad called Gest of Robyn Hood recorded at the end of the fifteenth century, but probably much older, Robyn identifies his targets to Litell Johnn:

    These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes,
    Ye shall them bete and bynde
    The hye sheriff of Notyngham,
    Hym holde ye in your mynde.
    (The First Fytte ll 56-59)

    In England the Church disposed of around a quarter of the gross national product, in parts of Germany the figure was more than a third, and in parts of France around a half. The Church held lands in similar proportions, and this was typical throughout Christendom as far east as Russia. Everywhere, greedy and ambitious men climbed the Church hierarchy to enrich themselves. Some, had become bishops without even being Christian believers. Priests and bishops deserted in droves during the French Revolution when the clerical unpopularity became manifest, and the Church no longer offered power, wealth and a comfortable existence. Talleyrand, a non-believer and Napolean's canny Foreign Minister, had been the Catholic Bishop of Autun at the Revolution. He had entered politics through his role as bishop, having attended the Estates-General of 1789 as a representative of the clergy.

    Bitter Eighteenth century humour - the mother of a large destitute family offers their tenth child
    in place of a tithe pig to an Anglican minister

    In England after the Reformation, tithes continued to be collected by the Church of England. Those who did not want to pay, notably Quakers, were persecuted and imprisoned. Tithes were collected, by force if necessary, for many centuries. Avoricious Churchmen were stock characters in literature and art. One standard trope was the clergyman coming to collect the tenth piglet of a litter, and being offered instead the tenth child. In some versions the farmer's wife tries to give the baby instead of the piglet. In others she will not give the tithe pig unless the churchman takes the child too. At a time when the Church considered itself above secular criticism, this was a searing and highly popular motif.

    The Tythe Pig
    In Country Village lives a Vicar
    Fond - as all are - of Tythes and Liquor;
    To Mirth his Ears are seldom shut,
    He'll Crack a Joke, and laugh at smut,
    But when his Tythes he gathers in,
    True Parson then - no Coin, no Grin;
    On Fish, on Flesh, on Bird, on Beast,
    Alike lays hold the Churlish Priest.
    Hob's Wife and sow - as Gossips tell
    Both at a time in Pieces fell;
    The Parson comes, the Pig he claims,
    And the Good Wife with Taunts inflames;
    But she, quite Arch, bow'd low and smil'd,
    Kept back the Pig, and held the Child:
    The Priest look'd gruff, the Wife look'd big,
    Zounds Sir! quoth she, no Child, no Pig

    In Ireland Roman Catholics were obliged to pay tithes to the Anglican Church, leading to the Tithe Wars in which the Christians on both sides exceeded themselves in inflicting barbarities on each other. In 1830, almost half the Anglican clergy were not resident in their assigned rectories and parishes. This absenteeism exacerbated a festering resentment about have to pay tithes to an alien Church. This resentment was inflamed by Roman Catholic clergy who were dependent on voluntary contributions (due to the discontinuation of the Maynooth grant). Catholic farmers resisted paying for two clerical establishments. Aided by Roman Catholic bishops and clergy, these poor farmers began a campaign of non-payment., punctuated by episodes of violence between 1830-36. Full relief from Anglican tithes was achieved under the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablished the Church of Ireland.

    One of many Irish memorials to people killed in tithe wars
    - battles against the obligation to pay Anglican tithes.

    In Scotland there were similar stories. William Spears (1812 - 1885) led a revolt against the tithes on fish levied by the Church of Scotland, which had continued even after the great Disruption of 1843 when most fishermen left the established Church. Impoverished by the cost of paying off future tithe liabilities, the fishermen were obliged to go out fishing in dangerous conditions, with predicable consequences, one of which was the Eyemouth Disaster. On the 14 th October 1881 most of the fishing fleet of Eyemouth, some 20 boats and 129 men from the town were lost in a storm. Neither the Church of Scotland, nor any established Church anywhere seems to have expressed any qualms about extorting money from poor and unwilling victims, nor about the consequences of doing so.

    Countless families were evicted for not paying their tithes to the Church

    Under the Tithe Act of 1836 most English tithes were abolished and commuted into rent charges. Following the further expression of dissatisfaction by farmers in the twentieth century, Acts of 1936 and 1958 commuted payments into lump sums to be redeemed by instalments up to the year 2000.

    Middle Littleton Tithe Barn
    Unlike ordinary barns made of wood, tithe barns are often built in solid stone so that
    disgruntled parishoners could not steal back the fruits of their work, or burn the barn down

    Other taxes included clerical tenths and various specialised tithes. For example so-called "Saladin tithes" had been instituted during the Crusades, ostensibly to fund these holy wars. A Saladin tithe raised in 1188 required a payment of 10 per cent on revenue and movable property, payable by every lay subject in England and France.

    Henry II, King of England: The Saladin Tithe, 1188
    from William Stubbs, ed., Select Charters of English Constitutional History,
    (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), p. 189

    Let the money be collected in every parish in the presence of the parish priest and of the rural dean, and of one Templar and one Hospitaller, and of a servant of the Lord King and a clerk of the King, and of a servant of a baron and his clerk, and the clerk of the bishop; and let the archbishops, bishops, and deans in every parish excommunicate every one who does not pay the lawful tithe, ...

    Anyone who refused to pay was reduced to bondage. In practice much of the money raised stayed within Church coffers, and such tithes continued to be raised long after the Crusades had failed. As an authority on the Crusades has put it:

    While prelates spent their money on fine horses and pet monkeys, their agents raised money by the wholesale redemption of Crusading vows. None of the clergy would contribute to the taxes levied to pay for the Crusades, though St Louis, to their rage, had refused them exemption. Meanwhile the general public was taxed again and again for Crusades that never took place*.

    Modern Church advertising - crude but effective


    A more sophisticated appeal citing scripture.
    Notice that thyere is no undertaking as to what the money will be used for.


    Churches have frequently been criticised for interpreting the word giving as meaning giving money to a particular Church, rather than giving something useful to someone who really needs it. If churches encouraged organ donation, then countless thousands of lives would be saved every year.


    Since the time of Pope Gregory I, peasants had been paying land taxes, marriage taxes and death duties — collected by clergymen dressed in the manner of imperial officers. In the Middle Ages, death duties had to be paid to the feudal lord (heriot) and to the Church (mortuary). Certain abbeys could claim goods to the value of up to a third of a dead person's possessions — man or woman. Peasants would take the dead person's belongings along to the church when they took the body to be buried (often their beds and bedding) in order to pay the tax. If the tax was not paid then the body would be denied a Christian burial. In practice the tax was not always enough. People were denied the last rights if they did not also make a gift, and they might still be denied burial if the relatives did not provide a further gift. Sometimes relatives were excommunicated for failing to make such gifts — even if they were not themselves beneficiaries of the will.

    Sometimes the Church as feudal lord could claim both heriot and mortuary taxes. These taxes were oppressive and widely resented, but the Church was unwilling to relent. It held fast to the view that God had sanctioned these taxes, and that it would therefore be sinful to fail to collect them. The dead commonly remained unburied until the family of the deceased paid their mortuary tax. The insensitivity of the Church in this respect could have serious consequences. In 1511, early in the reign of King Henry VIII, a London man, Richard Hunne, refused to hand over to a priest the christening/burial robe of his dead five-week-old child, After a dispute with this priest, Hunne sought to use the English common law courts to challenge the Church's rights. In response, Church officials arrested him for trial in an Ecclesiastical Court on the capital charge of heresy. In December 1514, as he was awaiting trial in the custody of the Bishop of London, he was found dead in "a prison of the said bishop's, called Lollards' tower, lying in the Cathedral church of St Paul, in London". Hunne was hanging by the neck, but all the evidence indicated that he had been murdered before being strung up. The general opinion was that he had been murdered by Church officials, a view supported by a coroner's jury.

    Part of the verdict of the coroner's court - reproduced with spelling modernised

    Hunne, though dead, was now tried by a Church court and convicted of heresy. His body was burned at the stake, and his property seized by the Church, so disinheriting his surviving children. Londoners were furious. The Bishop of London wrote to Cardinal Woolsey pleading that his Chancellor should not be tried for murder because he would not receive a fair trial. As the Right Reverend Lord Bishop pointed out "any twelve men" in London would have convicted him. Since a uninimous verdict was required to convict, the bishop was admitting that every single man in London would, given the opportunity, have convicted the bishop's chancellor of murder. When things had calmed down Dr Horsey was fined and quietly packed off to the country. Each event in this sorry tale inflamed the population ever further against the clergy and the Church, causing months of political and religious crisis. Hunne's case, and then Horsey's case, had both raised the question of whose justice prevailed in England, the Pope's or the King's. This question that was to take on a new significance when the Pope refused Henry a divorce. Although no one saw it at the time, the treatment of Hunne had already fuelled the English Reformation. The King's personal problem with Church law merely served to align him with his subjects.

    Richard Hunne was regarded by later Protestants as a martyr, murdered by officials of the Catholic Church. This illustration from Fox's Book of Martyrs bears the legend: A description of the Lolards Tower, where M. R. Hunne was first murdered, then by the said parties hanged, afterwards convicted of heresie, and at last burned at Smithfield. (The fact that the one candle in the room had been blown out was one of many clues that Hunne had not committed suicide as the Church tried to claim)

    Although the Church was a legal entity, it did not die like an ordinary person, and so did not have to pay death duties. Property that passed into the "dead hand" (mortmain) of the Church was therefore permanently exempt from this form of taxation. This opened up possibilities for tax evasion on the part of rich citizens with the complicity of the Church. The Church was not averse to making a turn on their dishonesty, and the system was widely abused throughout Christendom. In England, Church and State struggled for centuries over these practices until the Mortmain Act of 1736 eventually abolished them.

    Churches, and other religious groups, still enjoy a range of financial exemptions and privileges. Broadly they do not pay indirect taxes at all, either on their income or capital, which means that ordinary taxpayers have to pay many billions of pounds extra to meet the requirements of the exchequer.In Britain it used to be difficult to set up a charity, unless it was a religious one. Religious charities did not need to show any charitable intent at all, so religious charities were routinely established to avoid taxation. Initially it was taken for granted that the religion would be Christian, but it was later determined that any religion would do. The position was stated that "as between different religions the law stands neutral, but it assumes that any religion is at least likely to be better than none".*.

    Churches are still being given special privileges, even in new laws. When the community charge (or poll tax) was introduced in England in 1990, members of religious orders were amongst the few who were exempt. On the other hand taxpayers are heavily subsidising Church activities. For example Churches pay less than 2 per cent of the costs of their schools in England, the rest is borne by taxpayers*. What this means is that ordinary taxpayers are paying Churches to indoctrinate the children of their followers and to employ teachers on the grounds of their religious beliefs rather than their ability.

    Other liberal democracies also support favoured sects. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, for example, continues to receive State support in Denmark , and similar systems operate elsewhere in Scandinavia. In the USA, which purports to keep Church and State separate, Churches are exempt from property taxes, although there is no legal reason why they should be. In the 1960s this was estimated to cost every American family $140 per annum*, and the figure must now be many times that.

    One the many ways the supposedly secular USA discriminates in favour of Christian Churches

    Elsewhere, Churches have enjoyed even greater privileges. Up until 1979 Spanish taxpayers had part of their payments automatically paid to the Roman Catholic Church. Now they have a choice of paying it to the Church or to the state's welfare and culture budgets. So few people chose to pay their tax to the Church that the Spanish state pays a “top-up” out of general taxation amounting to tens of millions of Euros per annum. Politicians recognise that the system is unsustainable and yet it continues year after year*. The European Commission ruled in 2005 that the Spanish government was in breach of EU law because it exempted the Church from Value Added Tax. Church land and property is still exempted from rates, and Roman Catholic schools are still massively subsidised*. Spanish colonies had similar laws, which often survived the collapse of empire. Chile won its independence from Spain early in the nineteenth century, but it continued to protect and subsidise the Roman Catholic Church, and still does so. In Germany the State deducts a Church tax along with income tax. Millions of Euros are spent by the government on "state disbursements" to religious communities that are really unconditional gifts to recognised Churches*. The position is worse in Italy, a supposedly secular state. There the Church enjoys massive financial privileges, under the Lateran Treaty or Concordat negotiated between Mussolini and the Pope in 1929. These privileges not only continued but were extended by Silvio Berlusconi's government in 2005 so that Church businesses such as hostels and health clubs could benefit from fiscal exemptions as well as retirement homes, schools, monasteries, convents and assorted religious institutes. The Roman Catholic Church owns in excess of 100,000 buildings in Italy, almost all benefiting from tax privileges, even after Berlusconi's legislation was amended in 2006. The Church benefits through this financial discrimination by over 1,000,000,000 Euros a year, which means that ordinary tax payers are paying in excess of a billion Euros more each year than they would do in a truly secular country. At the time of writing this matter is being investigated by the European Commission on the grounds that it constitutes illegal state aid*.

    The Tithe Church - Ukraine

    The Roman Church built up its enormous wealth in a number of ways. Tithes, tenths and first fruits were just a few among many. Another source of income was the sale of indulgences. In the time of Sixtus IV (pope 1471-1484) the sale of plenary indulgences and Church offices accounted for a third of the papal budget. Then there were payments for absolution following serious crimes. Every crime had its price: so much for murder, so much for incest, so much for sodomy, so much for masturbation, and so on. According to the tariff published by the Roman chancery, a deacon guilty of murder could expect to be absolved for 20 crowns. The sale of holy relics also brought in fantastic amounts of money each year. The Roman catacombs became a vast treasure store. Odd finger bones were sold to poor pilgrims and whole skeletons to rich ones. All manner of relics were bought and sold raising the equivalent of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions,of dollars. Particularly impressive relics were housed in holy shrines, which the public was allowed to view at certain times, usually for a fee. Another source of funds was pimping. The Church licensed brothels and on occasion boasted of the employment it provided through prostitution. The Bishop of Winchester was famous for owning and licensing the brothels in Southwark. Pope Sixtus IV received 30,000 ducats a year from licensing brothels in Rome. The Church also levied a charge on priests who kept concubines. This sex tax, or cullagium as it was called, went into the funds of local ecclesiastical authorities. A bishop of Constance was reputed to have made a fortune out of the tax on his priests, who fathered children at the rate of 1,500 per annum*.

    Church abuses were apparently known to everyone, except perhaps the most gullable believers. In church documents, as here, bishops were often represented as foxes preaching to birds (only birds which real foxed preyed upon). The same motif is also common on miserichords. The message is clear.

    The Church raised money through professional begging, though the beggars were dignified by titles such as mendicants and quaestores. One group, the Beghards, seems to have given us the English word beggar. Fees were charged for a range of privileges, from admission to shrines to the right to be buried inside a church. Admission to monasteries and nunneries was generally restricted to the rich, and in order to enter they were expected to bring a dowry with them. Unnecessary prohibitions were enforced, then licences and dispensations were sold to allow people to avoid them: permission to marry a distant relative, permission to marry "out of season", permission for a man of illegitimate birth to enter Holy Orders. The removal of the heart or other organs from the dead for separate burial was regarded by the Church as profane and abominable — but papal licences could be bought to allow such dismemberment*. There were hundreds of such exemptions to be purchased from the Church Dispensations from consanguinity laws (which prevented even distant relatives from marrying each other) brought in a million gold florins a year in the fifteenth century. People paid to have their names included on a bede-roll, which meant that they would be specifically mentioned during Masses after their deaths. Money would generally buy a proper burial for those who were technically not allowed one: those who died in jousts and duels, money-lenders, excommunicates, strangers to the parish, mothers and infants who died in childbirth, clergymen's wives, suicides, and so on. It was also possible to buy exemption from persecution. Portuguese conversos (Christianised Jews) for example paid 1,860,000 ducats to Philip III of Spain to stop being persecuted in the early seventeenth century. A papal decree was obtained and 410 prisoners released*. It is difficult to see this as anything other than a kind of official protection racket, especially since the same thing happened many times, over many years, and in many places.

    A useful standby was the sale of Church offices. Cardinals' hats were always popular. They were often auctioned, and so had no fixed price. In the time of Pope Leo X in the sixteenth century, they were knocked down for, on average, around 30,000 ducats each. When funds ran low more offices could be invented , or turnover could be increased by poisoning existing cardinals, as Pope Alexander VI was known to do.

    Just of few of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of triregna (papal tiaras) owned by the Catholic Pope

    Procurations were taxes that were nominally collected to cover the costs of a bishop's visits to his priests. In fact they came to be collected whether or not such visits took place, and in time the Pope claimed the right to all Procurations. Yet another revenue earner was the practice of "reconciliation". Anything or anyone who had been spiritually befouled needed reconciling to the Church. Thus for example women needed reconciling after the sinful activity of giving birth, and church buildings required reconciliation if blood was shed in their precincts. In some places reconciliation fees raised vast amounts of money.

    The Church also raised money by charging people for exemptions from a range of arbitrary Church-imposed restrictions and obligations. Thus for example one might buy the right to eat forbidden foods on fast days.

    People could buy the right to eat not only meat and fish but also eggs, milk, butter and cheese. Funds raised from butter exemptions alone were huge — enough to fund vast new buildings. A number of European cathedrals still possess so-called butter-towers, paid for by the proceeds of Lenten butter exemptions. A notable example is the Butter Tower at Rouen, shown on the right.

    Fasts were enforced not only at Lent, but on many other days throughout the year, including Advent, the period leading up to Christmas. Saxon Prince Electors asked successive popes for an exemption so that their subjects could use butter to make stollen. Eventually one relented - for a fee. In 1490, Pope Innocent VIII, sent a letter to Prince Elector Ernst. This butterbrief or "Butter-Letter" granted the use of butter. According to the dispensation the Prince-Elector, his family and household were granted an exemption. Other Saxons were also permitted to use butter, if they paid 1/20th of a gold Gulden to the Church each year (supposedly to fund the building of Freiburg Minster.)

    Yet another example of a money making exception was the right to waive the three Tobias nights after a marriage.

    Every action by a priest was likely to incur a charge: the saying "no penny, no paternoster" is a reference to the practice of charging a mass stipend, or stole fee, before a priest would perform his duties. Priests who wanted to increase their revenue could generate the need for exorcisms and masses, perhaps by discovering witchcraft, or by organising ghostly visits, or by propagating stories of vampires*.

    A vampire hunting kit

    The dead were a source of revenue, and not only because of heriot and mortuary taxes. The living were led to believe that time in Purgatory could be reduced by buying services from the Church. As one historian puts it:

    Men left large sums in their wills to be paid at the time of their burial to priests, monks and nuns to say matins and vespers of the dead for them, to poor bedesmen to say Paternosters and Aves, to priests to say mass on the day, to anchorites and anchoresses for prayers, to monasteries and friaries to say mass for thirty days after death, and to keep a yearly orbit*.

    The transfer of land by will had been unknown to the Germanic peoples of northern and western Europeans. It was introduced by the Church to encourage the endowment of churches. In some places the canon law was arranged in other ways to favour Church interests. For example, wills were void if not made in the presence of a clerk, and testators were obliged to include formal bequests to the Church*.

    In Anglo-Saxon times the English Church collected a tribute called a church scot. Later the English paid to Rome another tax called a Romescot, later still known as Peter's Pence. Every family paid a penny on the feast of St Peter, in theory voluntarily. King Alfred made the collection official. In time popes came to regard it as a right, and made the mistake of demanding payment, whereupon Parliament legislated under Edward III that the tax was unconstitutional, and it was never paid again. Roman Catholics in England now make the payment voluntarily.

    Since the very earliest days of Christianity, churchmen have been accused of misappropriating the estates of dead Christians. whenever possible Christians were induced (by promisses of heaven and threats of hell) to leave all their possessions to the Church. Here is a famous troubadour, Peire Cardenal, saying what everyone knew in the Middle Ages, in the first verse of Tartarassa ni voutor

      Tartarassa ni voutor
    No sent tan leu carn puden
    Quom clerc e prezicador
    Senton ont es lo manen.
    Mantenen son sei privat,
    E quant malautia-l bat,
    Fan li far donassio
    Tel que-l paren no-i an pro.
    Buzzards and vultures
    Do not smell out stinking flesh
    As fast as clerics and preachers
    Smell out the rich.
    They circle around him, at once, like friends,
    and as soon as sickness strikes him down
    they get him to make a little donation,
    and his own family gets nothing.

    If people declined to leave a large enough legacy to the Church, their wills could always be fabricated or changed - an easy thing to do since the Church had a monoply of both writing and probate.

    Another source of revenue is what might be called blood-money. Historically, Christians were told that they could cleanse their sins, and so avoid punishment for them, by serving the Church in various, for example by denoting wealth to Churchmen. A corollary of this idea was that Christians could commit sins without fear of the consequences. This thinking started during the Crusades, but has continued into modern times. Nazis responsible for the massacre of Jews in the twentieth century were protected by the Catholic Church, just as Crusaders responsible for killing Jews in the Middle Ages had been protected by the Catholic Church - in both cases the Church ending up better off. Catholics can still salve their conscience and gain absolution for any serious crime - a facility enjoyed by the Mafia, the IRA, South American drug barons, and African dictators. It is revealing that that the first pope ever to mention the Mafia did so only in 1993, and the first to criticise the Mafia did so in 2014, well after the money laundering activities of the Vatican Bank had been publicly exposed. Free of international banking regulation, the Vatican Bank had been laundering criminal money without any constraint probably from its creation.

    Overall, only the tiniest fraction of Churches' income has ever been used for its stated purpose — for example to help the poor. If it had been, there would have been no need for separate "poor boxes", or for so many private individuals to found alms houses, hospitals or philanthropic charities. For the most part Churches accumulated wealth for their own benefit — buying property, building palaces and churches, commissioning religious art, accumulating treasure, and so on. When Henry VIII's commissioners visited the shrine of St Thomas Becket they found 4,994 ounces of gold, 4,425 of silver-gilt, 5,286 of silver, and 26 cart-loads of other treasure. This was only one of many such shrines around Christendom.

    Where there was no Established Church to legally impose Church taxes, the only option for Church leaders was to maximise voluntary contributions. Below are two examples of Twentieth Century American Church propaganda, emphasising the benefits promised to those who give money to their Church leaders

    Most of the Church's income is still accumulated, spent on clergymen, or used to build church buildings. Mainstream Churches seem to find nothing incongruous in spending money on buildings when it could be spent on the needy. The Roman Catholic Church completed a new cathedral in Liverpool in 1979, as the local population reeled under a collapsed economy. The Episcopal Church in the USA completed a cathedral in 1990, sited in Washington amidst a large underprivileged population.

    The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, operated under the more familiar name of Washington National Cathedral, is a cathedral of the Episcopal Church located in Washington, D.C.,It is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. As of 2016 it still reuired hundreds of millions of dollars to complete and repair it following an "Act of God" in 2011.

    In the same year Pope John Paul II consecrated a new basilica in a tiny bush town in Côte d'Ivoire in Western Africa. It had cost around US$300 million and had reputedly been financed from the Ivorian President's personal fortune, although few doubted that the money had actually come from national funds, so increasing the country's huge external debt.

    Basilica of Our Lady of Peace,Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire in Western Africa

    The Pope did not express any worry about the basilica, nor that the money spent could have been used to save thousands of lives (all of the children in the country could have been vaccinated against common killer diseases for a fraction of the amount). His Holiness had, however, entertained one worry during the construction of the building. He had been concerned that this basilica should not be bigger than St Peter's .

    Apart from church buildings, all the main denominations are still putting money into property, stocks and bonds, and other investments. The Church of England has assets worth billions of pounds. Following the global market crash in 2008, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York criticised those who cashed in on falling share prices as “bank robbers” and “asset strippers”. A Christian group called Ekklesia promptly pointed out that their own Church, the Church of England, had been profiting in exactly the way the archbishops were criticising, and had been pursuing particularly aggressive targets for their financial returns (a minimum return of 5 per cent each year above the rate of inflation)*.

    Jesus said "The poor will always be with us"
    - the reason often cited to explain why it is blasphemous for secularists to try to eradicate poverty

    There is no knowing how much wealth the Roman Church acquired over the centuries, because it is not accountable to anyone. If it had not suffered so much corruption, the Church would have accumulated many millions of billions of pounds of capital, with a corresponding income, but in recent years it has claimed to be making a substantial loss. How it can have collected and squandered so much wealth, while every day for almost two millennia people throughout Christendom have starved to death is a mystery even to many of the faithful.

    Bishop Domenico Mogavero, the bishop of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily,
    showing off his new silk robes designed by Giorgio Armani (3 May 2011)

    Today it is normal practice for churches to lock their doors all year round while the destitute live and die on the streets. Christians everywhere seem perfectly happy with this, just as they are happy to see their leaders emulating Jesus by trading fortunes on stock exchanges, living in mansions (Low Church) and palaces (High Church), sitting on thrones and wearing gorgeous robes and jewels.

    One of many images from the www highlighting what secularists see as an incongruity


    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hell-fire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    His Holiness, the highest moral authority on earth,
    along with a benighted pagan destined for eternal hellfire

    White silk and leather briefcase made for the Pope by Dieter Philippi

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    §. Eusebius for example cites an imperial letter (from Constantinus Augustus to Caecilian, Bishop of Carthage) making a grant of 3000 folles (a large amount of money) to churches. Eusebius, The History of the Church, 10:6.

    §. Whitehead, Church Law (under Tithes), p 322.

    §. In England, payment of 1000 marks per annum was ceded to the Pope by King John after he pledged feudal fealty. After various other taxes, annates were paid towards the end of the reign of Henry III. They were subsequently reclaimed by Henry VIII as the head of the Church in England. Later they were commuted into Queen Anne's Bounty.

    §. Runciman, A History of The Crusades, vol. 3, p 339, citing the Collectio de ScandalisEcclesiae, edited by Stroik, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, vol. XXIV7.

    §. "as between different religions the law stands neutral, but it assumes that any religion is at least likely to be better than none" in Gilmour v Coats, and articulated by Cross J in Neville Estates v Madden [1962] Ch 832, 853

    §. For a brief history of the Churches' successful efforts at obtaining public money, see Tribe, 100 Years of Freethought, pp 182ff.

    §. Tribe, 100 Years of Freethought, PP 139-140.

    § Julius Purcell, “Threat to State Aid Alarms Spanish Bishops”, (p28) The Sunday Telegraph, 12 June 2005.

    §. "Putting Their Faith In Money", The Economist, p 51, 3 rd October 1987.

    §. Joachim Kahl, The Misery of Christianity (English translation by N. D. Smith), Penguin Books, p 184.

    §. Richard Owen, “ Vatican to Face Inquisition On Tax Pact With Italy”, World News, Irish Independent, 31 st August 2007.

    §. Schottenloher, Flugschriften aus den ersten Jahren der Reformation, (1911) IV, 7, PP 305ff cited by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, p 97.

    §. Daniell, Death and Burial in Medieval England, PP 122-3.

    §. The papal decree was issued on 23 rd August 1604 and published on 16 th January 1605, on which date three tribunals released 410 prisoners. See Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, III, PP 267-70.

    §. Frayling, Vampyres, p 26.

    §. Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church 590-1500, p 356.

    §. Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, p 191.

    §. “Short-selling" church leaders accused of failing to practise what they preach” 26 September 2008 reported in The Times — see “ According to the Times in 2008 the Church of England held a £2.25bn portfolio of shares and agricultural land worth an estimated £237 million.

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