Every year in my theatre management class, we have a discussion on whether they would refuse a donation for their arts organization based on the identity or reputation of the donor.
Keep in mind that this is merely a donation â€” no strings attached to the donation other than listing the benefactor as a donor.
It always generates a good discussion, with questions such as:
- What if you personally disagree with some of the donor’s politics? (ie, would you accept money from George Soros? The Koch Brothers?)
- What if you think a company’s products are harmful? Would you accept money from them? (Philip Morris, maker of cigarettes, has been one of the best supporters of cutting-edge arts organizations.)
- What if a company’s image conflicted with that of your organization? (Usually someone brings up a pretty unlikely notion like Hustler Magazine wanting to donate to a Children’s Theatre Company.)
There’s almost always a split in the class with some students having a clear line that they won’t cross in accepting donations (although that might change if they were actually facing real-life budgetary challenges, rather than classroom theorizing), and other students who are happy to take anyone’s money and put it to better use (as long as there are no strings tied to it).
All this made me interested in a (continuing) debate regarding the church in Mexico and donations from drug traffickers.
HIDALGO, Mexico – The drug war in Mexico has forced the Catholic Church to confront allegations it accepts donations from drug lords.
In the tiny community of Tezontle in Hidalgo, Mexico there is a new building with an enormous silver cross.
A plaque on the wall identified the benefactor as Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano. He is a top leader of the Zetas which is one of Mexicoâ€™s most feared cartels.
Heâ€™s a native son who is a wanted man on both sides of the border, but people in the town say they know nothing of the generous donor.
Critics say the problem extends to the Catholic church hierarchy when it comes to drug money donations.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese in Mexico said the church warns parishes not to accept dirty money even if itâ€™s to pay for good deeds.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano is attempting to buy salvation. Or perhaps he’s just trying to whitewash his image. Or maybe he really believes in the church and wants to support it now that he has a shitload of money.
The church is not offering salvation in exchange for the money â€” merely a plaque of acknowledgement.
Is it wrong?
(Personally, I would find it better if the Catholic Church spent less on fancy buildings and more in other areas, but that’s another discussion.)
I can understand the church hierarchy wanting to squelch the practice. Whether it is morally wrong or not, they see the problem of the appearance of impropriety (ie, they’re afraid the public might assume they’re somehow in cahoots with the drug lords, letting them hide cocaine in the bell tower, etc.).
But using tainted money for good purposes â€” even money that has been obtained through murder â€” Is that morally wrong?
How is the Catholic Church’s use of tainted drug money different from the use of seized tainted drug money by law enforcement? (Other than the fact that law enforcement took it and the Church had it given to them freely.)
And here’s another thing to ponder. What about all the money that is given to other countries by the U.S. to prosecute the drug war? Now that money actually does have strings attached, requiring the recipient to be involved in fueling bloody conflict. Where’s the morality in accepting that kind of blood money?