Is the Vatican facing a payment crisis?
Despite the denials by a Vatican finance manager on Tuesday in a interview with L’Avvenire, journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, however, said the risk will become real by 2023. His latest book, Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment), has just been published in Italy.
Among the many internal documents cited by the journalist behind the Vatileaks, a spring 2018 note from the Vatican’s Council for the Economy highlighted how “the recurring and structural deficit has reached worrying levels, leading to the risk of payment default, which requires urgent intervention.”
From the explosion in overheads to the hike in staff costs, the published figures are alarming, despite the pope’s instructions to limit expenditures.
According to Nuzzi, 90 percent of the Vatican’s spending is in violation of the rules.
The pope’s reform anaesthetized, blocked, and sabotaged
As a result, the deficit of the Holy See, which has not published precise accounts since 2012, is widening. From 32 million euros in 2017, it should be 95.3 million in 2019.
“This serious situation jeopardizes the financial sustainability of the Holy See in the medium term and affects the resources to support the Church’s missions,” warned the economic council.
From the beginning of his pontificate in 2013, Pope Francis introduced serious financial reforms. But Nuzzi underlined how much it was “anaesthetized, blocked, and sabotaged by the Curia.”
He mainly questioned the inability of those who were entrusted by the pope with the task of effectively auditing the accounts.
“The fundamental information needed to determine the deficit accurately and correctly is missing,” said a faithful member of the pope at a meeting.
Almost half of the expenses could not be controlled.
Faulty management, incompetent and making corruption possible
Nuzzi highlighted two blackheads. First, the administrative office of the Secretary of State, which handles the pope’s expenses and which does not allow any control over them. Even people sent by the pope don’t have access to them.
This office is also responsible for the Peter’s Pence, which the author described as an example of hazardous management. Of late, the donations have seen a significant decline.
The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) acts as the Vatican’s central bank.
“A state within a state,” said Nuzzi.
The organization also manages the Holy See’s real estate assets, estimated at 2.7 billion euros. He denounced its “catastrophic real estate management.”
Of the 3,200 properties for rent, 15 percent are occupied free of charge and the rest earn only 10 percent of what they should.
As for movable properties, experts questioned the “defective, incompetent and corruption-prone” management.
Cardinals have bank accounts there with more than 2 million euros, which made the pope angry. The pope instructed officials to close them “immediately,” according to the book.
But, here again, the reforms are hampered by the inertia of the Curia. Appointed “auditor general” in 2015, with a broad independence, Libero Milone will bear the cost.
Nuzzi tells a convincing story of how he faced Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, then president of the APSA, and the then Bishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute (Sostituto) of the Secretariat of State, who has the upper hand on the administrative desk.
An internal investigation is now possible
He described the plot in which Milone, forced to resign in 2017, falls as the most successful example of the delegitimization operations faced by the pope’s officials, lay people and non-Italians.
Should we say that the pope’s inaction is a sign of failure?
Not necessarily. The “promotion” in 2018 of Bishop Becciu as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and the replacement, at the same time, of Cardinal Calcagno at the APSA, show that Pope Francis stands up to opposition.
Above all, the recent exclusion of all close lieutenants of Bishop Becciu (who was made a cardinal in January 2019) for the mismanagement of the Peter’s Pence and the subsequent resignation of the head of the Vatican Gendarmerie underline that even if purple still protects some, an internal investigation is in the pipeline.
Nicolas Senèze is the French language, Rome based correspondent for La Croix International
Published first in La Croix International, October 25, 2019.