Wherein Fr. Z tracks back to Pope Francis and priests’ cars: A Response to William Doino, Jr.

A few days ago at First Things William Doino, Jr. posted a well-written, thoughtful piece entitled: “Should Priests Drive Fancy Cars?”

Doino, channeling Francis, advocates the biblical text Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also.

Very good.  Yet, I respond with 1 Timothy 5:18:

Dignus est operarius mercede sua.

This, of course, is rendered as “A worker is worthy of his Mercedes.”

“Mercedes” here needs additional study.  Are priests to be limited to the Mercedes-Benz? Certainly not. Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen are acceptable by analogy.  Moreover, with a deeper, anagogical hermeneutic, non German-made vehicles are to be tolerated.

Look.  When Pope Francis really gets serious about this and decides to get around on the cheap, he could adopt what is also the greenest shuttle solution of them all!

This is a winner.

Think it through.  He would be close to and even more visible to El Pueblo, the vehicle would be even greener than an electric car, and – for cheap? – men would line up simply for the honor of carrying him around gratis.  What’s wrong with that?

Furthermore, he already has more than one!

If those older chairs are too spiffy, I’ll bet you all the money in my pocket right now that Mercedes-Benz could make a new sedia gestatoria for the Holy Father for a less than the €500k that the popemobile costs.

Or he could choose a local option and get his ride from FIAT!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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25 Responses to Wherein Fr. Z tracks back to Pope Francis and priests’ cars: A Response to William Doino, Jr.

  1. iPadre says:

    Isn’t that a BMW? Mini Cooper, Walkman edition.

  2. Magpie says:

    The cost issue is a red herring anyway. As I understand it, the nice cars used by Pope Benedict and available to Pope Francis were gifted by the motor manufacturers.

  3. NBW says:

    I like that photo! It would be cheaper. But then he would have to wear the proper vestments to go with that chair…..

  4. Bob B. says:

    Old joke:
    A man walked up to a Franciscan and Jesuit and asked, “How many novenas must you say to get a Mercedes Benz?”
    The Franciscan asked, “What’s a Mercedes Benz?”
    The Jesuit asked, “What’s a novena?”

  5. bohanlon says:

    I recently accompanied my parish priest to the graveside after a funeral. Father had bought a new car about a year ago – a Ford Focus. I commented that he drives the same kind of car as the Holy Father. He replied, “yes; I didn’t even know I was humble!”

    I drive a diesel VW; I hope that it is considered humble enough when, God-willing, I am ordained in six years. It should last a very long time, and it gets 55 MpG, so perhaps that will justify it enough. It is also covered in dirt, so I figure that if I never clean it, I will be okay.

  6. Unwilling says:

    I don’t know any priests whose cars give me second thoughts. [To be honest, I believe the quality of the parish priest's externals (like the quality of the fabric of church buildings, including the rectory) are the responsibility and "pride" of the parish -- I have always been satisfied to see our Pastor driving cars of a kind the more wealthy parishioners drive.] I tell myself there must be some priests that the Pope knows (of) whose car ownership is or indicates some sort of problem.

  7. Magpie says:

    A clean, well-cared for car is a good thing. If we care about something, we look after it and we keep it clean. There is nothing wrong with a clean, nice, modern car. Modern cars also have more environmentally friendly, cleaner, more efficient engines. The Office of the Papacy warrants a modern, fine motor car, such as a modern BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz, or even a VW Phaeton as used by BXVI.

  8. avecrux says:

    It’s not often I disagree with you Father, but…

    Years ago, when I was a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, starting a new family, our former Chaplain Fr. Gerard Steckler SJ said “we take a vow of poverty – but it is you young families today who live it.” Author Michael O’Brien has written about this. The demands made upon families who are striving to live out the Church’s teaching on marriage in this era… well… especially fathers… You compete in a work force where the concept of the single income family is considered ridiculous. Of course, only more ridiculous is the idea of being open to having many children. So – when you are trying to buy a home (or a car, for that matter) you are competing – economically – in an unwinnable race.

    When I was younger, a mother who had about 10 years on me (and already had about 5 more kids than me) gave me a piece of wisdom I will never forget. My husband was putting an insane amount of miles on his car because of the territory he had to cover. I was lamenting the age and state of our car – wishing I could buy him something newer and safer. She said “yeah – been there, done that. We just learned to REALLY trust God. He’ll be fine in his old car.”

    God is the Lord of the universe. A Priest can be fine in an old car, too. Just keep it maintained.

  9. avecrux says:

    It’s not often I disagree with you Father, but…

    Years ago, when I was a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, starting a new family, our former Chaplain Fr. Gerard Steckler SJ said “we take a vow of poverty – but it is you young families today who live it.” Author Michael O’Brien has written about this. The demands made upon families who are striving to live out the Church’s teaching on marriage in this era… well… especially fathers… You compete in a work force where the concept of the single income family is considered ridiculous. Of course, only more ridiculous is the idea of being open to having many children. So – when you are trying to buy a home (or a car, for that matter) you are competing – economically – in an unwinnable race.

    When I was younger, a mother who had about 10 years on me (and already had about 5 more kids than me) gave me a piece of wisdom I will never forget. My husband was putting an insane amount of miles on his car because of the territory he had to cover. I was lamenting the age and state of our car – wishing I could buy him something newer and safer. She said “yeah – been there, done that. We just learned to REALLY trust God. He’ll be fine in his old car.”

    God is the Lord of the universe. A Priest can be fine in an old car, too. Just keep it maintained.

  10. Ben Kenobi says:

    Has anyone tried doing a priest’s schedule solely on public transportation? I’d love to see someone try it which would deal with this issue quite nicely, I would think. Public transportation is slow. It only ‘works’, if you have a schedule that has you go into one place (work), and then back home, and if both places are within walking distance to stations.

  11. YES! Bring Back the Sedilia! And if the Pope wants to reach out to the public, the youth, etc. Have them lift the Pope instead of those fancily dressed butlers in their expensive suits! Poverty, Humility, and an evangelization win win!!!

  12. haribo says:

    While St. Francis wore rags, he never expected priests to, let alone the Pope. The “poorest” decision Pope Francis could have made was to use the car the Pope already instead of buying a cheaper one. Rather than flying in his own vestment set from Argentina the day after his election, he could have used one of the thousands already in the Vatican. And it would have cost nothing to move into the Papal apartments, while 1,000,000 Euros are now being spent to accommodate him in the Vatican guesthouse. Because none of these decisions can really be called “poverty” due to their expense, either these moves are about accommodating Francis’ personal tastes (not exactly humility, according to the St. Benedict), or he believes the most humble move is for the Pope to renounce honors due to his office. But if honoring the Pope can only mean honoring Bergoglio the individual (and not the office founded by Christ), then we are left with the impression that the papacy is never any larger than the person who holds it, which like it or not, obscures it’s divine origins.

    The president of the US, for example, is expected to dress a certain way, live in a certain building, take a certain oath and ride a certain plane. All of these things are expected of him, because his role is defined by history and the Constitution. If a new president chose to move out of the white house, for example, this would be seen as dangerously arrogant and despotic, as if the president were renouncing something that belonged to the American people and no longer considered himself accountable to anyone but himself.

    In contrast, the past five popes have each chosen to recast the papacy according to their own image by renouncing various honors and traditions that past popes didn’t challenge. The conclusion we have to draw from all of this is that “the papacy” is only what each Pope makes it out to be. That when it comes to his office, he really is only accountable to himself and not to the people’s expectations, to tradition, or the example of his predecessors. It’s ultramontanism taken to an extreme, and probably the reason so many young people since Vatican II have a hard time seeing Catholicism as something any larger than “this pope.” The president of the US is still only a part of a constitutional framework that is older and larger than he is. The popes have abolished the Catholic parallel (extrinsic tradition) and no one but Benedict XVI has shown any interest in restoring it.

  13. netokor says:

    And the Holy Father could use a less expensive jet and helicopter when traveling by air. A barnstorming Pope would win my heart! :-)

  14. frjim4321 says:

    If I wanted to take a vow of poverty I would have joined a religious order.

    Saving prudently I have purchased three new cars in nearly 35 years of priestly service. This is the first “loaded” one, albeit a Ford. Cash purchase after 9.5 years of saving and taking good care of the previous one.

    If somebody doesn’t like my car they can . . . well, this is a family blog.

  15. mike cliffson says:

    ¡”FIAT: voluntas tua”?

  16. Late for heaven says:

    I didn’t take a vow of poverty. I had four kids instead. In 26 years of raising them we had zero new cars. On one income we had zero savings prudent or otherwise. All the good care went to the kids not the cars.

    Good thing I had children or I would have gotten attached to things of this world like new cars.

    I am now 60 years old with a pension that barely raises me above the poverty line. I also don’t care what people may say about my car.

    My riches are the generous and loving hearts of my children.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    The only time I remember ever thinking about the car a priest drove was when our parish had a young priest who ran the AIDS ministry. He drove a really cute little convertible sports car, and drove around in “regular clothing”. That was pretty odd.
    I suppose if a priest drove a Jaguar or a Lexus it would seem kind of out of place. Contradictory, you know? Having said that, it’s none of my business.

  18. Unwilling says:

    I am the custodian of the
    wealth of the church.
    I pledge it now.
    All our money…
    …all our holdings in land…
    …buildings and great works of art…
    for the relief of our hungry brothers.
    And if to honor this pledge…
    the church must strip
    itself down to poverty…
    …so be it.
    I will not alter this pledge.
    I will not reduce it.

  19. Matthew says:

    My parish priest drives a Mercedes, I don’t know which one but the large sedan. He gets a new one every other year.

    The owners of the local Mercedes-Benz dealership are parishioners and provide it for his use without cost.

    You can’t be more frugal than free.

  20. James Joseph says:

    Eastern Catholic bishops are still toted around in the Sedia Gestoria.

    I have seen an Malankara Bishop in Philadephia in the big chair, as the congregation shouted, ‘Axios! Axios! Axios!”

  21. Lori Pieper says:

    In spite of the smile in the picture, Pope John Paul I actually hated the sedia gestatoria.. He would not use it beyond the minimum needed for the crowds to see him at his general audiences, and this was announced to the people as “strictly a practical necessity.”

    Then when he was at the Lateran palace, preparing to take possession of his cathedral at St. John Lateran (which is what was shown here), Msgr. Noe, the Papal MC, and the sediari, were waiting for him. He just started to walk in the opposite direction, until Msgr. Noe headed him off . . . eventually he gave in and let them carry him across the square amid the crowds to the cathedral, where he was set down just inside the door, and processed with his miter and crozier on foot. He rode in the sedia in the most gracious manner imaginable, a nice bowing in humility to his office. But I think in the end, he was still planning to get rid of it as soon as he could. (Much of this is from an article and recounted by eyewitnesses).

    I think in John Paul I’s mind, as well as that of Pope Francis, certain things that traditionalists and others hang on to so tenaciously are unessential baggage. They had a good and healthy view of tradition and realized that not all traditions are equally good and helpful. The mere fact that you’ve done things in a certain way for hundreds of years is not a point in its favor, unless it is at the same time beneficial in some way. Or maybe it was but now has ceased to be.

    If giving up something like the sedia gestatoria brought 100 new people into the Church every year who otherwise wouldn’t come, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get rid of it? This is what John Paul I thought — and he was the last Pope ever to use it.

    Just as Pope Francis, I believe, does many things not out of “humility” but as a selling point for the Church. Even if it costs a little in money, it might bring in infinitely more precious worth in souls.

  22. StWinefride says:

    St Clare of Assisi, whose Feast it is today (tomorrow in the Traditional Calendar) writes about Holy Poverty in her first Letter to St Agnes of Prague:

    O blessed poverty,
    who bestows eternal riches on those who love and
    embrace her!

    O holy poverty,
    to those who possess and desire you
    God promises the kingdom of heaven
    and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life!

    O God-centered poverty,
    whom the Lord Jesus Christ
    Who ruled and now rules heaven and earth,
    Who spoke and things were made,
    condescended to embrace before all else!

    The foxes have dens, He says, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man, Christ, has nowhere to lay His head, but bowing His head gave up His spirit.

    If so great and good a Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want and in absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! Be filled with a remarkable happiness and a spiritual joy! Contempt of the world has pleased You more than [its] honors, poverty more than earthly riches, and You have sought to store up greater treasures in heaven rather than on earth, where rust does not consume nor moth destroy nor thieves break in and steal. Your reward, then, is very great in heaven! And You have truly merited to be called a sister, spouse, and mother of the Son of the Father of the Most High and of the glorious Virgin.

    Santa Clara, ora pro nobis!

  23. Cathy says:

    Perhaps the grossest waste in regards to cars happened in our own country with the “cash for clunkers” program. Around this time, my mom was looking for a newer used car. She asked the car dealer to look at those cars, on an adjacent lot, they look like nice cars. Unfortunately, as nice as they may have been, having been determined “clunkers”, for the sake of the program, many perfectly useful, safe and drivable vehicles were destroyed. When I was young, you could obtain a decent first vehicle without breaking the bank. Now it has become quite difficult to obtain a decent vehicle at a decent price, and, in addition, the amount of money spent on insurance premiums and vehicle taxes becomes a critical issue as well. While the program “stimulated” the sale of cars, it also increased the level of personal debt of the citizenry while, at the same time removing the availability of an affordable option for transportation from the market for the people who would most benefit from owning a car.
    Owning a good, safe vehicle is a necessity. Choosing a vehicle that does not incur a crushing debt is an important part of ownership as well. The impulse to buy a grand vehicle can be as unwise as the impulse to buy a “smart” car or a car not likely to serve all purposes in all seasons in which one finds themselves.

  24. Nan says:

    @Unwilling, 2 things; first, Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you,” selling the beutiful things of the Church would serve only to empty the Vatican museums and take away from Mass. That wouldn’t do any long-term good for the poor. Second, St. Lawrence was roasted after the Romans demanded the wealth of the Church; he brought them the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering. The true treasures of the Church.

    RE: priest cars? I know they drive; my parish is the Cathedral so draws from everywhere if Fr. needs to make pastoral visits. Our mass transit isn’t that great so it would be impractical for him to use it. No idea what he drives as there’s a garage, presumably in which his car lives. Haven’t seen priests driving anything shocking, just ordinary cars.

  25. MarylandBill says:

    @Ben Kenobi,
    Actually my brother is a priest in England. He didn’t get a driver’s license in England until a couple of years after he was ordained (it was really hard to find time to take lessons, and it is very difficult to pass the driving test over there… Apparently he got rejected once for not using the handbrake when starting the car on a hill… something I never do even though I drive a Manual).

    In any case, it was a real challenge for him. He clearly believes now that at least some sort of car is important for him to adequately fulfill his ministry.