Dear Pastors, Pastoral Coordinators, Priests, School Principals, Directors of Religious Education, and Agency Directors:
Several times recently, questions have arisen with regard to the use of gaming revenue (principally from Bingo and poker) to support our ministry. After reflection and prayer, as well as consultation with the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, let me offer the following.
Betting and wagering have been discussed in Catholic sources for nearly the whole history of the Church. Yet I am confident that a detailed analysis of all this material would lead to nothing more clear than what is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves
contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive
someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The
passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and
cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so
slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.
CCC ¶ 2413
Games of chance, like the sale of alcohol, have a familiar role in annual parish festivals and similar events. It seems plain that gaming can be a benign element of the fun and fellowship that we all have enjoyed on such occasions.
Concerns arise, though, when gaming becomes part of our normal financial
operations. When games of chance are a frequently recurring element of parish life (or the life of a school or agency), and when we are rely on proceeds from these games to balance our budget, then we need to look more closely.
Funding our ministries is always a challenge, never more so than in difficult economic times like the present. However, we all know that gaming poses risks both to the player and to our Faith communities.
Players face at least three significant dangers. First, there is the obvious risk to the financial health of the player who cannot or does not play with restraint. The victims of addiction rarely recognize the danger until it is too late. Closely related are risks of depression, marital discord, and the like. Second, gaming can encourage the vice of greed, by offering the pursuit of money as a form of recreation. Third, gaming can promote an unrealistic understanding of how to resolve the challenges of life. The lure of a jackpot should never be substituted for thrift and hard work.
There also is potential harm to our faith communities. First, we are harmed when we fail in justice to support our own programs. Some gaming proceeds are drawn from persons of ample means, but another portion inevitably comes from the very persons who will need our economic assistance. Second, we are harmed when gaming revenues allow us to defer calling the Christian community to share fully its time, talent, and treasure. We can teach virtue and give the opportunity for great blessing when we encourage Catholics to participate personally and directly in our ministries. Third, significant reliance on gaming can cause confusion regarding our Gospel mission, or can even cause scandal, among some non- Catholic Christians.
In light of these considerations, I am making several requests -
1. If your parish, school, or agency is relying on gaming revenue to a significant extent, please reflect on whether this is really the best way to build the Christian community and fund our ministry. If you conclude that this is a necessary source of income, then I would ask that you return to this reflection from time to time, perhaps biennially.
2. Please exercise restraint in beginning new games of chance, or in further
enlargements of what is already taking place in our diocese.
3. Please honor the conscience-based concerns of employees who would prefer not to participate in this method of fund raising.
4. If your parish, school, or agency is involved in gaming beyond the occasional opportunity for fellowship (e.g., an annual parish festival), then please publicize at events and in your bulletin the contact information for gambling-addiction and debt-relief counselors. Please also train your volunteers to recognize the signs of a player with a problem, so that you can privately approach such a person later with pastoral concern and an offer of assistance if needed.
In offering these comments and making these requests, I intend no judgment of those who have sponsored gaming or who have relied on this source of funds. I trust that these funds have been raised in good faith and used for worthy objectives. Nevertheless, I believe our witness to the Gospel would be enhanced if we moved away from supporting our ministries through games of chance.
Thank you for all you do, and may the Lord continue to bless you and your ministry.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Earl Boyea