The Church's finances were originally designed for the basic support of the clergy and for the benefit of the poor.
The Catholic Church’s relationship with money has been a complicated issue for many centuries.
Financial abuses and scandals have plagued the Church in modern times, but also in medieval Europe and during other ages of the Church’s existence.
All of this brings up the basic question “Why does the Church ask for money?”
Money during Jesus’ ministry
The need for money to fund basic expenses was part of Jesus’ ministry with his 12 apostles.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “We are told that Christ and His Apostles had a common purse for the defraying of their expenses. That this information comes to us only incidentally, through the narration of an event bearing no direct relation to it, shows that the Evangelist presumes the reader to take it for granted that there was a common purse for the expenses of Christ and His disciples.”
This is referring to the following passage from the Gospel of John.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor.John 13:29
This single passage highlights the two primary purposes of money the Church possesses:
1. For basic human needs of the clergy (“Buy what we need for the feast”)
2. For support of the poor (“Give something to the poor”)
Apostles’ handling of money
After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles continued this treatment of money.
Many early Christians would even sell their homes so that they could give the money to the apostles.
However, it wasn’t so much for them as it was for the community.
There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.Acts 4:34-35
At the same time, St. Paul reminded the early Christians that clergy do need basic human sustenance.
My defense against those who would pass judgment on me is this. Do we not have the right to eat and drink?1 Corinthians 9:3-4
Yet, St. Paul also reiterates in his writings how we should be generous with our money, supporting the widow and the orphan.
Roman Empire until today
The issue of the Church handling money has only become more complex as the Church was accepted into the Roman Empire. This led to many temptations for Church officials, and saints throughout the centuries would speak out against any abuses that would come up.
This is one of the reasons why St. Francis of Assisi’s radical poverty was such a revolution in religious orders and set a powerful example that remains to this day.
How the Church can balance the need for basic needs and support of the poor remains a complicated issue that won’t likely be resolved in our lifetime.