In the best-selling book, The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown makes the case that the Catholic Church is covering up the truth about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and The New Testament. In this fictional work, Sophie and Robert uncover clues that reveal a centuries old plot to protect the Catholic Church. For example, the Holy Grail was a metaphor for femininity. The Garden of Eden in Genesis was really a smear campaign against women. The Council of Nacine was a council in which papal authorities decided to make Jesus a divine creation and not a mortal prophet. Is the work of the church in this book rent seeking? I think so.
To economists, rent is a payment beyond what is necessary to keep a resource employed in its current use. For example, I could work as a teacher or work at the bank. But I’m a union member and my union has negotiated a higher salary for me than I would earn at the bank. Maybe I belong to a powerful union who will strike if my salary isn’t renegotiated annually. As a union member, I receive rent because I’m being paid more than the value of my marginal product or the value of what I produce.
If the truth about the church were known, according the Da Vinci Code, then all of the clergy employed by the Catholic Church would be employed above their alternate use. In other words, too much money is being spent on priests, bishops, and cardinals who are just protecting their own jobs at the expense of the congregation. By withholding the origin of Jesus as a mortal man, valuable information, the Catholic clergy is retained in a capacity where they receive a wage higher than they would if the congregation knew the truth. By suppressing the truth in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Catholic Church is defeating the free market and using the work of many faithful members inefficiently. In the language of economics, the church is rent seeking.