ROME – With church membership still down after two centuries of recession, officials at the Vatican Reserve in 2009 announced the resumption of indulgences, a policy dubbed “Plenary Easing”, to spur church recovery. Two years in, however, some are beginning to question its effectiveness.
Since 2009, the value of the Plenary Indulgence has fallen 17% against a basket of penances including the Hail Mary and the Our Father. At the close of churches on Sunday it was trading at 1.2 Years of Purgatory per indulgence, its lowest value in nearly five centuries.
But officials at the Vatican were quick to reassure penitents.
Ben Tetzel, chairman of the Vatican Reserve, the Church’s official storehouse of merit which is charged with maintaining the value of the Indulgence, stated in a press conference on Tuesday that church recovery is “on the horizon”, and that the skyrocketing price of penance is “transitory”.
However, many are skeptical of Tetzel’s optimism. Martin Wurzelbacher, a small church owner in Ohio, has become a lightning rod for dissatisfaction with Vatican policy since Pope Benedict’s stumbling response to 95 questions he raised at a town hall meeting near his hometown in March.
“Tetzel’s policy has been a disaster for the Church,” he said in an interview with ABC on Friday. “Indulgences are buying fewer and fewer years of purgatory, and all of a sudden the Catholic dream is out of reach for your average family.”
Others have also expressed skepticism of the Reserve’s ability to recall the indulgences once church recovery begins, but Pope Benedict believes the policy is necessary to close the Church’s massive grace deficit. He has also proposed a 5% “saint tax” on all grace earned from nonsacramental merit. The measure is expected to go for a vote before the College of Cardinals on Thursday.
The Vatican Reserve Board is scheduled to meet next month, after which it is widely expected that Tetzel will announce a second round of plenary easing