The Vatican has come out swinging a day after an explosive new book claimed the Holy See is at risk of financial collapse.
Driving the news
“There’s no threat of collapse or default here. There’s only the need for a spending review. And that’s what we’re doing. I can prove it to you with numbers”, Vatican Bishop Nunzio Galantino told Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire.
Galantino is the President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the body that manages the Vatican’s assets and real estate holdings.
He was responding to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who on Monday released a book, Last Judgment, that draws on 3,000 leaked Vatican documents to suggest that the Holy See is losing as much as 44 million euros a year in donations thanks to the sex abuse crisis.
Nuzzi also warned the Vatican could default on its debts as early as 2023.
“The current situation of the administration of the Holy See is no different from what happens in any family or even in the nations of the different continents”, Galantino told Avvenire.
“At a certain point one looks at what one spends, considers the revenue that comes in, and tries to adjust expenses accordingly”.
The bishop explained that the Vatican’s assets come mostly from the Financial Convention annexed to the Lateran Pacts of 1929, in which Italy recognised the territorial and extra-territorial boundaries of the Vatican City State and provided the Holy See with compensation for the loss of the Papal States.
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Why it matters
Galantino denied, as Nuzzi had suggested, that the losses in the APSA – as much as 67%, according to the journalist – were due to “lawless clientelism, false accounting and of stubborn sabotage” of the Pope’s attempts to clean up Vatican finances.
“In fact… the APSA in 2018 closed with a profit of more than 22 million euros”, Galantino said, explaining that “the financial loss on the books is exclusively due to an extraordinary intervention aimed at saving the operation of a Catholic hospital and the jobs of its employees”.
The bishop was referring to APSA’s 2018 loan of $50 million to the Immaculate Dermatological Institute (IDI).
That loan, along with money from the Italian government, saved over 1,000 jobs at the Institute.
Galantino also denied that the APSA has “secret or encryped accounts” or parallel accounting systems.
“At APSA, there are also no accounts of physical or juridical persons, except for the dicasteries of the Holy See, related institutions, and the Governorate”, the bishop affirmed.
In his conversation with Avvenire, the President of the APSA also criticised Nuzzi and pundits like him who, according to Galantino, think the Vatican shouldn’t conduct business at all.
“A State that has no taxes or public debt has only two ways to live. Either it invests its own resources to produce an income, or it relies on the contributions of the faithful, even those made to Peter’s Pence”, the bishop explained.
“It is the case here that many want the Church to have nothing and then, in any case, to provide fair pay for its workers, as well as to respond to the many needs, first of all those of the poor. It’s obvious that it can’t be like that”.
Galantino said there are currently 2,400 apartments, “mostly in Rome and Castel Gandolfo”, as well as 600 “shops and offices” under APSA management.
“Those not producing revenue are either service apartments or the offices of the Curia”, he explained.
“As for their market value, it is impossible to make an estimate. Let’s take the buildings in Pio XII Square: how much are they worth in practice? If you turn one into a super luxury hotel, it’s one thing, but if they serve as offices for the Roman Curia, as they do now, they are worth nothing”, the bishop said.
“In addition, about 60 percent of the apartments are rented to employees in need, who pay a reduced rent.
“This is a form of social housing. If large private companies do this, they are meritorious institutions that take care of their staff. If the Vatican does the same, we are incompetent, or worse, because we don’t know how to manage our assets”, the bishop decried.
Galantino did admit, however, “a need for a spending review [and] to contain personnel costs and the purchase of materials”.
He said those cost-cutting measures are presently being undertaken “with great care and attention”.
“So there is no need for alarmism about the hypothetical default. Rather, we are talking about an entity that is realizing it needs to contain expenses. This happens in any good family or in any serious State”, Galantino underlined.
For the record
As for Nuzzi’s other charge – that Pope Francis’ financial reform efforts are being boycotted by officials in the Vatican – Galantino denounced that “to set the Pope against the Curia is a worn-out journalistic cliché”.
“We are all working to balance income and expenditure. So we try to do exactly what the Pope wants”, the President of the APSA explained.
“Other readings of the issue sound a lot like the Da Vinci Code, which represents an absolutely fictional approach to reality”.