Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon concludes her series on the growing addiction of gambling with the opinion of past and present clergy. Part one appeared in the February 26 issue and part two in the March 5 issue.
Fr Paschal Tiernan OP was asked to give a Catholic perspective on gambling for an article in the Daily Mirror, January 29, 1965. He said, “the Church does not condemn gambling and lotteries as sinful and immoral, because they are not, in themselves, sinful and immoral. They can be made the occasion of sin as when a passion for gambling leads a man to spend money which is not his own, or necessary for the upkeep of his family and to pay his lawful debts. But if he can honestly afford it, one is free to invest in lotteries or to indulge in the amusements of a wager, unless one is violating the law of the state.”
The legalisation of casino gaming in 1997 had commentary. Archbishop Anthony Pantin CSSp in his ‘Ask Me Another’ Column, January 12, 1997 stated his opposition to casinos.
“We have always refused the solution of abstinence as obligatory for everyone, advocating instead the virtuous use of things in moderation. We base ourselves on two teachings found in Holy Scripture. The first is that God wants us to take responsibility for choosing virtuous actions, and the second is that He wants us to enjoy the good things He has created for us.”
Archbishop Pantin referred to Australian layman, Catholic apologist Frank Sheed, who said, “the sinner abuses, the Puritan refuses, the Christian uses” stating, “We feel that this was the attitude of Jesus Himself, who in contrast to John the Baptist ‘came eating and drinking’”.
He said applying general principles to games of chance, “we know they can be abused, but when played with moderation can be a lot of fun, an occasion for laughter and celebration in which everyone can share on an equal basis. They build up community spirit and can raise funds for a good cause.”
Archbishop Pantin commented in his column that things changed when games of chance become big business, become an occasion for irresponsible spending and have no relation to family or local community. “They are no longer fun, no longer build community and therefore no longer virtuous. There is also the possibility of corruption in administering these games.”
The Archbishop acknowledged that it was not easy to determine at what point a barrier was crossed between healthy fun and abuse. He noted many in the society thought lotto and national lotteries have crossed the barrier. Casinos, he added “go a step further again”.
The raffles hosted by parishes have been used as an example of the Church supporting gambling. Referring to this, Archbishop Pantin said he could not understand the comparison when large sums are spent in casinos and “they foster a lifestyle that encourages various forms of lawlessness and does nothing to animate community living or a better life for those in need”.
The point was raised that the freedom of those who want to gamble should be respected. The Archbishop agreed there is some truth in this and it was also true that the State cannot impose morality by legislation.
He however added, “a government is bound to protect the common good and also must never give the impression that it approves of immoral behaviour. On this ground the legalisation of casinos is not acceptable to us.”
Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General remarked that in T&T there is “gambling and gambling”. Addictive gambling damages households and lives therefore if anyone shows signs of that kind of addiction, they should withdraw from it. “There are so many casinos about the place now; it encourages people to gamble and gambling always has the risk of losing money.”
Fr Sirju said people can visit casinos and spend money entertaining themselves. “Money is not a god; we don’t worship it. There is a place to spend it on entertainment, but one always has to balance what one has with the needs of the family and the needs of the poor.” Money for a child’s education should not be gambled away.
Those who cannot control themselves should avoid casinos especially the small and middle-income earners who can ill afford to lose. “The chances are they will spend too much money there, and the losses will always outweigh the wins.”
He mentioned that illegal activities have been associated with the casino industry. He felt that the proliferation of gambling places in such a small country as T&T is not a good sign.
Fr Sirju said people have said that games played at church such as raffles or the game in which a dice is placed under one of two or three cups which are shuffled and players are asked to guess which one has the dice, are gambling games. However, he felt these are benign forms of gambling that are more fun than anything else.
“There might be certain games which may be called gambling but a church harvest is once a year and the price you charge to take part in the game is so minimal it is hardly an area where you end up losing a whole set of money that is destructive to the family,” he commented.