If you’ve heard of “blockchain,” “bitcoin,” “ethereum,” or “ICOs” before, you’ve maybe heard they’re in a bubble, they’re mostly scams, and they’re used by criminals.
That’s all true. But blockchain technology might also be the most important invention of the decade – with many positive uses!
So my question is this: will the Church miss it?
Much of the Church is still playing catch-up on old-news technologies like websites, smartphones, and social media. We need to do a better job of taking seriously new up-and-coming technologies before we’re already behind. And we believe blockchain technology should be near the top of the list.
Here are 5 concrete ways the Catholic Church can harness this technology in service of the Church’s mission:
1) Empowering the poor in the developing world
So you want to help the world’s poor (the Church is interested in that, right?). Blockchain technology could be a huge help.
Participation in the world’s economic system requires the use of a banking system. Unfortunately, much of the world’s population in developing countries simply does not have access to this banking system, or their country’s financial system is corrupt or otherwise unreliable.
Ironically, one technology that people in the developing world increasingly do have access to is the Internet, mostly via cheap Android smartphones. And that’s all you need to use blockchain technology. You download a free app and you can send and receive cryptocurrency all over the world – and do it exponentially faster and cheaper than you could do it even if you had the most developed banking system.
Of course, this would have most of its benefits only if cryptocurrency becomes widely accepted. But adoption is growing all the time (lots of major websites already accept it), and the more people there are working for its use to spread (there’s a lot of work to be done), the faster we can get to a world where a person can enjoy all the benefits of the digital global economy without waiting for the pre-digital banking system behemoth to finally serve their area in a just and reliable way.
2) Fast, Cheap, Secure International Payments
The Catholic Church is a global institution. Blockchains are also global. Think these two things might go together?
Wealthier parts of the Church often try to help support poorer parts of the Church. But every country has its own currency, and sending money internationally means navigating the extremely slow and expensive international money transfer system. The problem can be compounded in parts of the world that are hostile to the Church, or if one is trying to get money to places without a dependable banking system.
Enter cryptocurrency. Not only is it truly global, it has many other significant advantages over the traditional banking system. Like email, cryptocurrency can be sent to anyone in the world in seconds, with the transaction fully confirmed in less than an hour or faster. It can be done with low fees, and without the involvement or approval of any (possibly corrupt) third party that might give the Church problems. Compare that to days or weeks of waiting for money to be transferred, hefty fees, and the possibility of corruption in the process, and the choice is easy.
Granted, as already mentioned, cryptocurrency itself, once received, might not be too useful when and until there is a large enough part of the economy that accepts it, which isn’t really the case right now depending on where you live.
But even in the mean time, many parts of the world have cryptocurrency exchanges for their local currencies. Because of this, in some cases, it might still be faster and cheaper to send someone cryptocurrency and have them exchange it for their local currency in a local exchange, rather than send them government currency through the international money transfer system.
3) Secure long-term storage of important information
Blockchains were first used for payment systems, but they can do so much more! One thing they can also do really well is securely store important information long-term.
This could be used to help the Church keep track of, say, Sacramental records. It’s very important to the life of the Church that the Church knows who has received certain Sacraments like Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders. And yes, it can be done in a secure and private way so that the information isn’t public – only accessible to the people who need it!
Right now, parishes do their best to keep records of who has received what Sacrament and to pass that information on to other parishes when necessary. But it’s a slow, clunky system that requires a lot of trust in individual Catholics to be honest about what Sacraments they have received and where. If all of that information was also stored on the blockchain, parishes could theoretically verify Sacramental information instantly!
4) Financial transparency
The Vatican Bank has been accused of money laundering. Catholic charities and bishops’ conferences are sometimes accused of sending donation money to organizations that promote things contrary to Church teaching. And the laity don’t always know who to trust.
More financial transparency would help all parties involved. And blockchain technology can help!
Depending on how you use it, cryptocurrencies can be used in such a way that all transactions are public. If Catholics could donate to Catholic causes or funds, knowing that where the money was spent could be publicly verified, that could relieve a lot of concerns!
5) Unlocking value in property and assets
The Catholic Church might not have as much money as people think, but it certainly has a lot of wealth in the form of property and assets. Blockchain technology can help dioceses access some of that value – even without losing control of the property. Here’s how:
Another great use-case for blockchain technology is representing property or other assets as digital tokens. This can be done on smart-contract blockchain platforms like Ethereum. This makes it easier for people to buy and sell fractional ownership.
In other words, let’s say a Catholic diocese had some non-parish property, and the bishop wanted to unlock some of the value of the property without completely selling it. Blockchain technology makes it easier to sell off just, say, 40%, and in small chunks to many investors. That way, the diocese could maintain control of the property, but get some of its value today.
Investors get to expose their portfolios to fractions of properties they normally wouldn’t be able to, and the Church has more money to build a school or serve the poor. It’s a win-win.
BONUS: …all the uses we haven’t thought of yet!
This is the most exciting section. Of course, the first 5 things on this list are by no means exhaustive of all the possibilities; they are just examples to get readers thinking. Nonetheless, at just under a decade old, blockchain technology is a still in its infancy. Like the Internet in the 1980s, people haven’t even thought of all the ways it might be used.
But we know one thing for sure: Catholics shouldn’t be content with taking a backseat!
And that’s why we exist! Here at Catholic Blockchain, we want to do two things: promote the use of blockchain technology in the Catholic Church, as well as represent Catholic values in the blockchain community.
And we need your help!
Are you interested in getting involved? Join our groups below and be a part of the conversation: