Christmas time is donation time. But now, of all times, the Vatican has a problem with its credibility. For the Feast of Charity, donations are also ringing in the church headquarters. What happens with the money, however, remains open.
By his own admission, Pope Francis is struggling with corruption, internal control system is tarnished. And despite all protestations of transparency, the Vatican’s donation center keeps its figures as closely guarded as the seal of confession.
Since October, the Vatican has been plagued by news of an ill-fated real estate investment in London. Under Angelo Becciu, at that time head of the Interior Department and in the meantime promoted to Cardinal, the Secretariat of State entrusted its pounds to the Italian financial juggler Raffaele Mincione; when it became clear that no blessing lay on the deal, Becciu’s successor Egdar Pena Parra tried to save the operation; finally the Vatican Bank IOR intervened, the Pope sent the public prosecutor: suspicion of corruption.
Donations from the St. Peter’s penny
The action became a scandal because donations are said to have been affected to a considerable extent. The Vatican did not comment until today on the amount of the investments in question; estimates suggest it may be around 500 million euros.
The Secretariat of State manages a considerable fortune, with which it maintains, among other things, the diplomatic apparatus across 180 states. The pot is fed from levies that every Catholic diocese has to pay according to Canon 1271 CIC, but also from donations such as the so-called St. Peter’s penny.
According to a recent article in the "Wall Street Journal," this collection recently generated more than 50 million euros annually. Just ten percent of it, according to the U.S. newspaper, citing familiar circles, is said to have gone to charitable tasks.
The donation center of the "Obolo di San Pietro" explains on its Internet side, the faithful participated with their donation "in the work of the pope for the support of the most needy and church municipalities in emergency". When asked for more information, the office refers to the Vatican Press Office. The press office refers to the "Obolo" homepage. Questions about the development of donations, the amount of income and the distribution for charitable and administrative purposes remain unanswered.
The website for St. Peter’s pence shows the pope with senior citizens. The pope in a children’s hospital. The pope in front of an earthquake-damaged church. The secretariat of state he does not show.
In June 2017, the donations office circulated via Twitter the short message "The Church should be on the way, with joy and listening to concerns," accompanied by a picture of a young priest being embraced by a man smiling with gratitude. It was Krzysztof Charamsa, shamed employee of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after his coming out in 2015, with his life partner Eduard. An oversight, it was said. The Twitter account is maintained externally, he said.
Possibly also applies to the balance sheets. The Vatican can hardly afford too much unprofessionalism.
Also care of cultural assets from donations
Not only in its own upkeep, but also in the care of its immense cultural assets, it benefits from donations. The Patrons of the Arts alone pays for 80 percent of the restoration projects in the Vatican Museums, as U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich recently pointed out.
Previous crises such as the abuse scandal showed: especially the conservative benefactors, but also non-church cooperation partners for humanitarian projects easily go to distance when the Vatican comes into morally dubious light.
In order to shed light on the financial activities of the Secretariat of State, the Holy See is currently not in the best position: After a two-and-a-half-year vacancy in the leadership, the responsible economic secretariat will get a new head as of 1. January a new prefect, Jesuit Juan Guerrero, a newcomer to the Curia jungle. The experienced and long-time office manager Claudia Ciocca, who herself was considered a candidate for the post, has resigned. The Vatican’s financial watchdog AIF lost its director, president and half of its supervisory board in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, the head of the goods administration, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, admitted something like curial co-responsibility for the bad image. It may be necessary to "communicate better and more" on financial ies, he told the magazine "Famiglia Cristiana".
Otherwise, only "half-truths that are ultimately whole untruths" would flourish in the field of economic news from the Vatican.