by Lawrence J. Fedewa
Pope Francis I earned the admiration of many when he promised to make the Catholic Church “a poor church for the poor.” I think of that every June when the Peter’s Pence collection is taken up in all the Catholic churches worldwide. The purpose of the collection is to support the Vatican’s donations to the poor. A serious scandal occurred when it was learned a few years ago that 80% of the collection’s $80 – $100 million proceeds were used to offset the Vatican Curia’s operating deficit (National Catholic Reporter, 11/23/2013).
The larger question is, “Why does the Vatican have a deficit at all?” In fact, why is there a Peter’s Pence in the first place? The Vatican has accumulated its wealth over 2000 years and no one really knows how much net worth the entire operation has. Britain’s International Financial Times (7/19/14) quotes Italian newspaper, L’Espresso’s estimate of the Vatican’s net worth as nearly 10 billion Euros ($12 billion). But Cardinal George Pell, who oversees Vatican finances, said recently, “In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet.”
Not only is the balance sheet enormous, but cash flow is even more impressive. The 800 inhabitants of th Vatican average $365,796 per capita, making the Vatican the richest state on the face of the earth! (Ibid.)
So, the fact is that nobody knows how much wealth resides in the Vatican. What we do know is that Pope Francis uttered a new standard when he said to a group of seminarians, “It hurts my heart when I see a priest with the latest model car. If you like the fancy one, think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
Leaving the rest of us to wonder, how many starving children in the world could be fed with $12 billion?
In order for Pope Francis to “walk the walk”, he has to know what he is dealing with. We humbly suggest that his New Year’s resolution be, “Resolved to make Cardinal Pell’s mission to find and record the totality of the Vatican’s resources the top priority for 2018.”
Next year’s resolution should be how to monetize and distribute that wealth to the poor of the world.