The Vatican released a consolidated budget summary on Thursday, showing an €11 million deficit on a total of €318 million in expenses – much smaller than the €75 million in the previous year – but still faces dire straits.
Investment returns accounted for much of the deficit closure, while the Peter’s Pence collection contributed €66 million to expenses but only brought in €53 million.
The Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Fr. Juan A. Guerrero Alves SJ, explained in an interview published the same day to the official Vatican News portal, that the Peter’s Pence fund covered 32% of the expenses for the Holy See’s mission in 2019. “[The] Peter Pence’s collection amounted to €53 million,” he said, “of which €10 million were donated for specific purposes,” which can include support for papal charitable activities.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that as little as 10% of Peter’s Pence money was going to directly to charity.
“The [Peter’s Pence] fund,” Fr Guerrero said, “collaborated with the Holy Father’s mission by providing €66 million – €23 million more than collected.” The Peter’s Pence fund, in other words, spent significantly more than it took in, and burned through principal to help the Vatican make ends meet. “This has happened in recent years,” Guerrero acknowledged.
The Prefect also spoke of recent financial scandals in the Vatican – some of them involving Peter’s Pence money that comes from an annual worldwide collection broadly billed as a chance for the faithful to contribute to papal charity but frequently used to meet budget shortfalls – saying, “The faithful have the right to know how we use resources in the Holy See. We are not owners; we are stewards of the goods we have received.”
Fr Guerrero also acknowledged that recent reporting has brought to light disturbing details regarding the Vatican’s stewardship practices.
“I read the newspapers,” Fr Guerrero said. “It is possible that, in some cases, the Holy See has been not only badly advised but also cheated.” He said he believes the Holy See is “learning from past mistakes or imprudence,” and that now it is a question “of accelerating, at the decisive and insistent impulse of the Pope, the process of knowledge, internal and external transparency, control, and collaboration between the different departments.”
Though he made no specific reference to the affair, a suspicious real-estate development at 60 Sloane Ave in London is one major scandal that saw developments last week, when Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu – the man who shepherded the deal from the Vatican side for years while he was serving as papal chief-of-staff in the Secretariat of State – resigned as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and renounced his Cardinalatial rights.
Cardinal Becciu denies wrongdoing, and told reporters he and Pope Francis didn’t discuss the subject of Sloane Ave didn’t come up in the conversationEarlier this week, the Holy See appointed a special prosecutor, Prof. Gianluca Perone. No reason was given for the appointment, but Perone is an expert in commercial law with a focus on technical aspects of business organisation and investment.
The publication of the budget sheet came the same week as inspectors from the Council of Europe’s money laundering monitor, Moneyval, began an evaluation of financial reform efforts.
The outlook for 2020 and possibly beyond is not rosy, either.
The consolidated budget summary noted: “Normal flow guaranteed by the real estate management which has not been reinvested but rather retained to maintain liquidity as a prudent measure for future potential economic impact of COVID-19.” Internal reports leaked to the press earlier this year, showing that Vatican department heads are bracing for drops in revenue that between 30% and 80% in the year to come, and a resulting deficit between 28% and 175%, depending on how successful emergency cost-controlling measures prove to be.