The Vatican’s unprecedented attempt at financial transparency

The “2019 Consolidated Financial Statement”, as it is called, does not go into great detail, but it gives a relatively broad overview of the resources

Oct 17, 2020

By Xavier Le Normand
“The economy of the Holy See must be a house of glass.”

With these words, the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, Jesuit Fr Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, wants to assure the world that the Vatican is taking determined steps towards financial transparency.

This is more necessary than ever since the financial scandals involving the upper echelons of the Catholic Church seem to be without end. The latest evidence was last week when Pope Francis surprised almost everyone when he demanded the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In an effort to combat the Holy See’s negative image of financial opacity, the Secretariat for the Economy on October 1 published a 12-page balance sheet for the fiscal year 2019.

In addition, Vatican Media published an interview with Fr Guerrero, which was conducted by Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the communications office.

The “2019 Consolidated Financial Statement”, as it is called, does not go into great detail, but it gives a relatively broad overview of the resources and expenditures for the Catholic Church’s central offices and bureaucracy.

A deficit of 11 million euros
The statement reports that the Holy See was able to take in 307 million euros last year.

More than half of that – 164 million – came from financial and real estate income, which was generated by assets of some 1.4 billion euros.

Commercial services (mainly visits to the catacombs and sales by the Vatican Publishing House and the Dicastery for Communication) account for another third of the revenues.

The rest was generated from other services  (4 per cent), contributions from other Vatican entities (14 per cent) and donations from the faithful and dioceses. Intake from this last sector represented “only” 18 per cent of the Holy See’s income in 2019.

But the 307 million euros of income could not offset the Holy See’s some 318 million euros in expenditures last year, leaving a shortfall of 11 million euros.

These Holy See’s expenses fall into three broad categories: services and administration (14 per cent), assets management (21 per cent) and a final category defined as “apostolic mission” (65 per cent or 207 million euros).

With this consolidated financial statement, the Holy See wants to show that nearly twothirds of its expenses are related to the very reason for its existence.

The high cost of communications
The statement goes further and specifies what is concretely behind the expression “apostolic mission”.

The 207 million euros are broken down in two categories: one by entity and the other by concept.

The first lists the Dicastery for Communication as the biggest spender (46 million euros), followed closely by the Apostolic Nunciatures spread throughout the world (43 million euros).

Next come the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (22 million), the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (16 million) and the Vatican Library (10 million).

All the other dicasteries and entities of the Holy See each spent 7 million euros or less, which corresponds to under three per cent of the expenses for the “apostolic mission”.

Expenditures according to concept are very much in line with these large balances. Thus, “message diffusion” corresponds to the communications dicastery’s expenses and is top of the list.

But this breakdown also shows that the Holy See allocates 16 per cent of its expenses to “support local Churches in difficulty and specific contexts of evangelisation”.

Similarly, seven per cent is spent on something called “organisation ecclesial life”, while 12 per cent of the 207 million is spent on “donations and contributions”.

Only the Holy See, not the Vatican
The 11 million euro deficit for 2019 is still significantly less than the more than 75 million euros shortfall in 2018.

But as Fr Guerrero pointed out in his interview with Tornielli, these sums have been positively and negatively impacted by exceptional operations.

He said otherwise the 2019 deficit would amount to 22 million euros.

The economy prefect emphasized that this is the balance sheet for the Holy See and not for the Vatican as a whole. A larger balance sheet would include the Vatican City State, the employees’ pension fund and the so-called Vatican Bank (Institute for the Works of Religion-IOR).

The Jesuit said that if everything were consolidated the overall patrimony would amount to 4 billion euros and there would be no deficit.

In other words, the capital of the Roman Curia represents “only” 35 per cent of that of the Vatican in the broadest sense. Fr Guerrero said this is a relatively moderate figure. He insisted that the Holy See is “not a large economic entity”, pointing out that “many American universities have much more income than the Roman Curia indicates in this balance sheet”. ––LCI (https://international.lacroix.com/)

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