The catholic church and gambling

Max Wallace
Tuesday 2 December 2008
popularity : 100%

Max Wallace is a member of the Australian National Secular Association which is campaigning for a constitutional separation of church and state in Australia. His book, The Purple Economy, as been published in 2007.

Readers of La Raison may not be aware of the Catholic Church’s extensive involvement in gambling in Australia. The scale of the church’s involvement here points to a more general attitude toward gambling that is likely to be reflected in more extensive investment in the industry world wide than is currently known. Readers may know the Catholic Church’s Catechism is equivocal on gambling. It says gambling is only a problem when it ‘deprives someone of what is necessary to provide to his needs and those of others.’ This equivocation allows the church to be involved in the industry directly at an organizational level and indirectly at a personal level.

For as long as anyone can remember in Australia the church has been running ‘bingo’ numbers games in its clubs where for a small investment gamblers can play an apparently harmless game of chance for money prizes. This was quite a money spinner.

For many years it was not unusual to see Catholic priests at racetracks in Australia. Similarly, only a few years ago in Ireland, a priest featured in a television program where he was filmed giving horse racing tips from the pulpit after his sermon. He was then filmed following his own advice at the races making bets. He was careful to dress in civilian clothes while doing so.

Similarly, a priest in Melbourne, Australia, has been publishing for many years a racing tips newspaper Winning Post which is widely circulated. It is advertised extensively on radio stations dedicated to racing coverage. Not content with that he also runs a poker machine parlour in the central business district of Melbourne which is the capital of the state of Victoria. While the proceeds allegedly go to aid ‘disadvantaged children’ the directors of this ‘non-profit’ business receive around A$250,000 in fees each year. He was quoted in the Melbourne Herald-Sun on 28 May 2002 saying that ‘he made his first bet at the age of five’ and that he was ‘yet to cross paths with a poker machine addict.’

In 2000 the State government of Victoria was obliged to commence a $1.8M campaign against problem gambling because ‘almost a third of problem gamblers in Australia are Victorians.’

It is with poker machines in social clubs for Catholics and their guests that the Catholic Church rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars in Australia. It has become so blatant that a Catholic member of the state parliament of New South Wales, Peter Breen, felt obliged to write to the pope in 2002 to complain that it was unseemly that John Paul II’s face was featured in a photograph above the entrance to a room housing dozens of poker machines at the Campbelltown Catholic Club south of Sydney.

It was swiftly removed but that was not the only issue Breen raised. He pointed out that it was also inappropriate that the Campbelltown club was preparing to spend A$50M to build a ‘tourist hotel’ in the district. Around the same time the General Manager of the club conceded in a radio interview that the club had only given A$7M to Catholic schools in the preceding 30 years of the club’s existence.

The reason the Catholic management of the club could be so disinterested in funding Catholic schools in their own area is because the cost of running Catholic schools in Australia is largely borne by all taxpayers regardless of their beliefs. This was the result of the infamous ‘State Aid’ High Court case of 1981 where the court decided there was no separation of church and state in Australia and that Federal tax money given to church schools was for ‘education’ not ‘religious’ purposes. That, of course, was not true.

Despite the Catholic Church’s extensive involvement in gambling in Australia, with a straight face it engages with other churches in ecumenical discussion about problem gambling. It is hypocritical for the other major churches in Australia tolerate this when they do not have social clubs with hundreds of poker machines like the Catholics. The likely reason they remain silent is because they do not want to re-open the sectarian divide that characterized Australian society until the early 1960s.

By way of conclusion, I point out that we are still largely in the dark about the scale of Vatican finances, including gambling, despite some recent useful literature such as J.F. Pollard’s Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy 1850 – 1950 (Cambridge, 2005). From the scraps of information that have become available from the Vatican vaults Pollard has found that the Vatican was speculating on world currency markets in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. This was long before Roberto Calvi appeared on the scene as the Vatican’s banker and alleged intermediary between the Mafia, the Vatican and the Swiss Banks. We await with interest the trial of those Italians recently arrested for his 1982 murder and hope they make it to the courts alive to testify. As readers may know Calvi was founding hanging from a London bridge with his pockets full of bricks.

There is also the question of a serious allegation made by a wealthy Mexican, an ‘owner of horse and dog racing tracks’ and associate of Mexican Catholic Cardinal, Juan Sandoval. The also wealthy Cardinal was the subject of an inquiry by the Mexican authorities. The inquiry found the Cardinal did not have a case to answer. His associate’s comment was reported in Mexican newsmagazine Mileno Semanal and repeated in the Miami Herald that ‘the Catholic Church runs, through the Bank of the Vatican, by way of Swiss banking … 49 casinos and 16 casino ships in Europe.’

While the comment is hearsay it would be consistent with their behaviour in Australia. I suggest if the information about the Catholic Church’s involvement in gambling and other financial activities was to become better known, the scandal would be on a similar scale to that of the paedophile phenomenon. It is time the mask was ripped from the face of the Vatican. It is time now for whistleblowers who have this information to get it onto the public record. Is there another Martin Luther out there?

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