Following his recent election, the press has taken note of Pope Francis' humility and willingness to mingle with common people. However, the accolades usually include additional comments which go something like: "I hope Francis will return the Church to the simplicity of Jesus and the Apostles." Some go on to imply the Church is too rich, the Pope's dress too extravagant, and both should share these riches for the benefit of the poor.
We would do well to recall the story in Mark's Gospel (Chapter 14) of the woman who, after pouring a jar of oil worth a year's wages on the head of Jesus, suffers condemnation for it. Jesus is asked why this oil could not be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus reminds them that the poor are always with us, but not the Son of Man. Perhaps we can apply that example here.
If you accept the Catholic premise that Jesus is really and truly present in the bread and wine at Mass, then shouldn't the churches, vestments, vessels and other things used in worship be the finest and best? The Jews certainly believed that to be true - the Old Testament is replete with examples.
The Pope's clothes are a sign of his office - an ancient office spanning over 2,000 years. While we don't criticize other professions for wearing the formal garb of their office, we seem to have no problem criticizing the Pope. Popes really own little property of their own. Look up how little was left by Pope John Paul in his will.
Assuming the Church could sell all of its assets (a dubious premise, I would argue - how would you sell St. Peter's Basilica, or the Pieta?), the proceeds would be a pittance against relieving global poverty, not to mention Third World debt. And then what? The truth is the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the planet, period. All its churches, art and other treasures belong to the world. Anyone can visit a gothic cathedral in Europe, or admire the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
We would all do well to focus on the heart of the message that Pope Francis is really trying to convey. We will solve the true poverty of our modern society - spiritual poverty - by encountering the person of Jesus Christ.