A group of Catholic theologians and professors backed by Ralph Nader has penned a letter to billionaire Ken Langone criticizing him for comments he made to CNBC about potential church fundraising problems, and asking him to join a campaign to raise the minimum wage.
In a CNBC exclusive the week of New Year's Eve, Langone, who is spearheading fundraising efforts for the $180 million renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral, said that at least one potential 7-figure donor had expressed concerns about Pope Francis' negative comments about the wealthy. Langone said he had approached Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the New York Archdiocese, to tell him the comments might hurt fundraising efforts.
In a more than 200-page exhortation in November, the pope criticized the wealthy, what he called "deified markets," and "an economy that kills."
Nader's group, called "Time for a Raise Campaign," wrote in the letter to Langone, "The Pope's statements do not seem excessively negative in tone relative to passages from the Bible itself regarding the rich and the poor." (Click here for the full text of the letter.)
Langone, who is best known for founding Home Depot, was traveling overseas and unavailable for comment.
In an interview in December, Langone was not directly critical of comments from the pope, but said they had come up in conversation with at least one potential wealthy donor and he hoped they wouldn't become "a hurdle" to fundraising efforts. Langone said he was receiving donations not just from Catholics, but many others, including Episcopalians and Jews. The topic of the minimum wage was not discussed.
The letter from Nader's group, which includes scholars from Harvard, Notre Dame, Georgetown and other universities, quotes James 5 from the Bible: "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. ...The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you."
Pete Davis, an organizer at the campaign, said they were calling for Langone's help in their minimum wage campaign, because "Even though Mr. Langone is a wonderful philanthropist, we want him to help us make sure the structure of the economy is a fair one."
—By CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Follow her on Twitter @MCaruso_Cabrera.