Vatican releases budget, balance sheet amid financial scandal

The data release marked the first time since 2016 that the Vatican has given up any information about its finances, despite pledges by Pope Francis from the start of his pontificate in 2013 to be more transparent and accountable with the Holy See's money [File: Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo]

The Vatican released a detailed budget, balance sheet and earnings statement on Thursday as it sought to reassure Catholics it is serious about cleaning up its financial act following a corruption scandal that has exposed shoddy fiscal management.

The data marked the first time since 2016 that the Vatican has released any information about its finances, despite pledges by Pope Francis from the start of his pontificate in 2013 to be more transparent and accountable with the Holy See’s money.

The data showed the Vatican bureaucracy had narrowed its deficit to 11 million euros ($12.92m) last year from 75 million euros ($88m) in 2018, even taking into account a 25 million-euro ($29.36m) drop in donations from dioceses and individuals alike.

But more than the earnings statement, the consolidated report provided the first-known publicly released information about the Vatican’s net equity – estimated at 1.4 billion euros ($1.6bn) for the Holy See Curia, or bureaucracy. The Vatican’s overall patrimony blooms to four billion euros ($4.7bn) when taking into account the cash-cow of the Vatican Museums, the Vatican bank and other sources of assets and funds.

The report also marked the first time the Vatican has made public how its operating budget is divided among the various Holy See offices, which serve as the central government of the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church.

Astonishingly, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – in recent decades perhaps the best-known Vatican office because it processes all clergy sex abuse cases – operates on an annual budget of 3.36 million euros ($3.95m). That represents 1 percent of the Curia’s budget for its apostolic work, far less than what is budgeted for the Vatican’s Apostolic Library or Archives.

The Congregation has long complained it has far too few people or resources to process the mountain of cases that have come to the Vatican in recent years – cases that have cost US dioceses and religious orders more than $3bn in legal settlements to victims of clergy abuse and fees.

The Vatican released the information ahead of the Sunday collection for Peter’s Pence, the special extra donation Catholic faithful are asked to make once a year to support the pope’s charitable works and to fund the operations of the Holy See.

“The faithful have the right to know how we use resources in the Holy See,” the Vatican’s finance minister, the Reverend Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, said in explaining the decision to release the detailed information for the first time.

In an interview with the Vatican’s in-house media, Guerrero said the mission of the Holy See was not to make profit but to serve the church. Deficits were to be expected, he said, but also the correct management of resources.

“It’s possible that in some cases, the Holy See has been not only poorly counselled but also defrauded,” he said, referring to the recent scandals. “I think we’re learning from the errors or imprudent (decisions) of the past.”

It was a reference to a continuing Vatican corruption investigation that has already cost a half-dozen Holy See employees their jobs, including a powerful cardinal.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the longtime number two in the Vatican Secretariat of State, was fired last week after Francis said he had evidence the Italian embezzled 100,000 euros ($117,440) from the secretariat to fund a charity controlled by his brother.

Becciu has admitted he sent the money but denied wrongdoing, saying the funds were destined for his home diocese’s charity, not his brother.

A bigger scandal dates from 2014 when the Vatican – under Becciu – entered into a real estate venture by investing more than $200m in a fund run by an Italian businessman. The deal gave the Holy See a 45 percent stake in a luxury building in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood.

The money came from the secretariat of state’s asset portfolio, which is funded in large part by the Peter’s Pence donations.

The Holy See decided in November 2018 to exit the investment fund, end its relationship with the businessman and to buy out the remainder of the building at 60 Sloane Ave. The buyout deal, however, cost the Holy See tens of millions of euros more in fees to middlemen and sparked the investigation that has upended the Vatican for a year.

In part because of the scandal and the mismanagement of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s own asset portfolio, Guerrero has wrested control of the funds and put them under the management of the Vatican’s central treasury office, known by its acronym, APSA. The same has been done for all other departments of the Curia.

“Centralizing [assets] will, without doubt, allow for greater transparency and more precise control,” Guerrero said, adding it also allows for a unified investment strategy that respects the Catholic Church’s social doctrine and ethical norms.

Source: AP