As long as it was the Tea Party or Rush Limbaugh – the eccentric conservative US radio talk show host – making unfavourable comments about the Pope, these could be brushed off.
But if what Home Depot’s founder Ken Langone told CNBC television is true, Pope Francis’ position regarding the economy poses a problem that is slightly harder to resolve.
Some big US sponsors are thinking twice about donating to the Church and this is putting their work they do worldwide in jeopardy. The Pope warned against the excesses of capitalism in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
The text did not go down well with American conservatives and Limbaugh accused the Pope of using Marxist language. In his interview with Vatican Insider correspondent Andrea Tornielli, Francis responded to these criticisms saying that “the Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
The dispute with Limbaugh and the Tea Party ended there. But now a more serious issue seems to be raising its ugly head. Ken Langone is a devout Catholic and founder of the big American chain store Home Depot. He has always been a committed and consistent donor of the Church and New York’s cardinal Timothy Dolan included him in its list of financiers contributing to the 180 million project to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral on New York’s 5th Avenue. The cathedral was built in 1878.
Langone told CNBC that one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the Pope criticizing market economies as “exclusionary,” urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a “culture of prosperity” that leads some to become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
Langone said he had raised the problem with Dolan on more than one occasion: “Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with … There is no nation on earth that is so forthcoming, so giving” but they need to be approached in the right way: “you get more with honey than with vinegar.”
Home Depot’s founder said Dolan had reassured him that the donor must have misunderstood Francis’ message: “The Pope loves the poor. He also loves rich people. We’ve gotta correct to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father’s message properly.’ And then I think he’s gonna say, ‘Oh, OK. If that’s the case, count me in for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.’” Langone said he would talk to him about it but neither he nor Dolan wished to reveal the name of the potential donor.
If the problem became more than just a simple defection it could cause complications for the Vatican and go beyond the issue of gathering funds for the restoration of St. Patrick’s. The United States and Germany contribute the most to the Church’s activities across the world.
If America’s Catholic philanthropists turn the funding tap off, they would be very hard to replace. This would make it hard for charities like Catholic Charities USA to find funding for projects aimed at helping the poor.
Dolan may of course be right: one person’s doubt does not make it a widespread phenomenon and a better understanding of where Francis is coming from could be the solution to the problem.
Strangely enough, the White House hopes to rebuild its relations with the Vatican on these economic and social positions after their disputes over abortion and life-related issues.