Harold and Carmela Lubeski of Cure of Ars Parish in Merrick, N.Y., display their tickets for Mass with Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tickets for Pope Francis’ procession through Central Park have started appearing for sale at huge markups on website like Craigslist and eBay. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic

Pope Francis tickets prompt debate: Is it better to scalp or to receive?

By  David Gibson, Religion News Service
  • September 24, 2015

NEW YORK - When free tickets to see Pope Francis’ procession through Central Park on Sept. 25 started appearing for sale at huge markups on web sites like Craigslist and eBay, the reaction was swift and strong.

The 80,000 tickets had been distributed by lottery, an effort to provide New Yorkers without the means or connections a chance to see Francis in person.

Now, scalpers were hawking them to the highest bidder, asking as much as $3,000.

“To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for,” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan fumed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also chimed in, calling the idea of scalping such tickets “disgusting” and “absolutely inconsistent” with the Pope’s beliefs because Francis is so outspoken in advocating on behalf of the poor.

But wait. Is banning the scalping of the tickets really fair to the poor? Or is it shortchanging them?

“So according to Cardinal Dolan, ‘everything Pope Francis stands for’ consists of the proposition that for New Yorkers of modest means, nothing should take precedence over turning out to see Pope Francis — not groceries, not medicine, not car repairs, not any of the other things that people can buy with the proceeds from selling their tickets,” economist Steve Landsburg, a self-described “hardcore libertarian,” wrote on his blog.

“I doubt that Pope Francis is quite as egomaniacal as the cardinal paints him,” Landsburg continued. “But apparently the cardinal himself would rather see poor people cheering for the Pope than improving their lives.”

At the blog of the Acton Institute — a libertarian-leaning think tank run by Fr. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest — Joe Carter seconded Landsburg’s criticism:

“If you want to help the poor, one of the things you should do is give them the freedom to sell their luxury goods,” wrote Carter, an evangelical. “A ticket to the Pope’s procession is a limited, luxury good.”

The specific issue of the Central Park tickets is moot at this point — Church leaders and city officials are not going to start approving of papal scalpers. But the debate is intriguing because it points to the larger argument, which has become supercharged in the runup to Francis’ arrival, over his criticisms of modern-day capitalism and income inequality.

Many American Catholic conservatives like Sirico have been sharply critical of Francis. They say he doesn’t know what he is talking about when he criticizes economics, and they say he should be limiting himself to spiritual matters anyway.

Francis’ defenders say that’s nonsense: Popes have always spoken out on economic justice, and Francis’ critiques — if delivered with more passion and panache than popes in recent years have done — are in keeping with Catholic teaching and statements of predecessors like Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

As to the specific issue of whether is it better to scalp or to receive, David Cloutier, a theologian at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland who frequently writes on Catholic social ethics, said Carter and Landsburg make the mistake of turning a gift into a commodity.

“Why does this distinction matter?” Cloutier wrote in an e-mail. “Here’s why: if every relationship of goods is about exchange, then the rich always win. And that is what Carter is proposing: those with the most wealth end up being able to use their privilege for just about anything. There is never any standing in line or taking turns or distribution in accord with chance.

“Maybe this is a reasonable way to distribute rare artwork. But is it a reasonable way to distribute places in the educational system or the Pope’s congregation? No.”

A world that creates markets for everything, he said, “is a world without any gifts, or put another way, a world where nothing is really sacred.”

It’s hard to believe that’s what Francis would want, or that he thinks that the wealthy should help the poor in exchange for something.

When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was know for avoiding Church events that would auction off items for charity because he believed the rich should donate out of Christian charity rather than personal gain.


Read our complete coverage of the Pope's historic visit to the United States of America.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.