by Sandro Magister on Settimo Cielo
There were two practical tasks that the cardinals entrusted to Jorge Mario Bergoglio when they elected him pope in 2013: the reform of the curia and the reorganization of Vatican finances.
On the first point of the program, what holds sway is the apostolic constitution “Praedicate Evangelium,” issued on August 19 of 2022. On the second point, the publication of the Vatican balance sheets of 2021, at the beginning of this month of August.
The reform of the curia will be evaluated by the consistory Pope Francis has convened for August 29 and 30. On the reorganization of the Vatican accounts, however, no consultation at all has been scheduled. But just as the criticisms that have already emerged so far on the reform of the curia are neither few nor marginal, the same is happening with the reorganization of the accounts.
The very manner in which the balance sheets were made public did not meet expectations. There was no press conference of presentation to make room for questions, objections, clarifications. The publication of the documents was accompanied by only two institutional interviews, in the Vatican media, with the prefect of the secretariat for the economy, the Jesuit Antonio Guerrero, and with the president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, APSA, Archbishop Nunzio Galantino.
The step backward in communication is noteworthy with respect to what happened some time ago with the annual reports of the Financial Intelligence Authority, AIF, when president René Bruelhart and director Tommaso Di Ruzza presented themselves in the press room for journalistic criticism, some of it biting.
These days the AIF – which in the meantime has changed its name to ASIF, Supervisory and Financial Information Authority – as well as the IOR, Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican “bank,” are also publishing their annual reports without taking questions from journalists. With a reserve that seems in glaring contrast with the overflowing communicative style of Pope Francis and his uncontainable flood of interviews.
Perhaps the most important new feature of the 2021 budget of the Holy See is the inclusion of a good 92 entities that are part of it, against the 60 of last year. But the assets and liabilities of each of these entities remain unknown, drowned in the overall balance sheet. It would be interesting to know, for example, the actual costs of the individual Vatican media, whose expenses are much higher than their revenues, in particular for “L’Osservatore Romano.”
In some institutions there have been attempts to contain costs, but in others the opposite has happened. The tribunal of the Roman Rota, which in the past financed itself with the proceeds of the trials, is now in deficit, since Pope Francis has made access to proceedings free for all, in order to “keep justice from being only for those who can pay for it.” With the result – Fr. Guerrero said in the interview that accompanied the publication of the financial statements – that to make ends meet, “the Holy See has to dump an average of 20-25 million euros worth of assets every year,” on a net worth tallied up today at 1.6 billion euros.
But take note, the 2021 budget of the Holy See does not include the APSA, whose budget has been published separately and which holds most of the movable and fixed assets of the Holy See, including those managed up to a year ago by the secretariat of state, in the latter category consisting of more than 4,000 housing units in Italy and more than a thousand abroad, with prestigious properties in London, Paris, Geneva, and Lausanne.
Moreover, inexplicably there has been since 2015 no further publication of the budget of the governorate of the Vatican City State, which thanks above all to proceeds from the museums has always made a substantial contribution to the revenues of the Holy See.
And on the horizon there looms the collapse of the pension fund, regarding which – Fr. Guerrero admitted – “we are promising more than in reality we can afford,” without having put in place the necessary corrective measures.
This to demonstrate that much remains to be done to bring order, transparency, and sustainability to the Vatican accounts, as the most attentive observers have charged.
But today what is doing the most damage to the administrative and financial image of the Holy See is something that goes beyond the balance sheets. It is that affair of the building in London, at 60 Sloane Avenue, which is keeping the courtrooms busy, not only at the Vatican, and is involving with ever greater danger even the highest authorities of the Church, including the pope.
Settimo Cielo has already amply documented how in the trial underway at the Vatican Pope Francis is serving as director, screenwriter, and actor. It was he – and he has said so – who wanted the trial and set it in motion. It is he who has steered it to his liking, with four consecutive “rescripta” that changed the rules with the proceedings underway. It was he who sentenced in advance and without proof the most famous of the accused, the hapless cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, even excluding him from a future conclave. It was he who pulled the strings of the negotiations with financier Gianluigi Torzi to buy back at a high price – a price that the secretariat of state continues to judge as extortion – the last decisive package of shares in the London building:
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But now there is more. The trial underway at the Vatican is about to have a duplicate in London, the first hint of which came on July 26 with the judgment of the civil appeals court of England and Wales that unanimously recognized – unlike the lower court’s verdict – the full right of Raffaele Mincione, the British financier who managed the first phase of the purchase of the London building by the secretariat of state, to have recourse to an English civil court to establish the correctness and good faith of his actions, contrary to to the accusation by the secretariat of state of having forced it to pay for the property at far above market prices.
Not only that. In siding with Mincione, the English court of appeals acknowledged that the secretariat of state is a party to the affair and cannot continue to call itself “neutral,” in part because in the criminal trial underway at the Vatican it has constituted itself as a civil party against the accused. And it has required it to pay the legal costs of the financier’s appeal, with an advance of 200 thousand pounds on an estimated final sum of about half a million.
In ruling out the “neutrality” of the secretariat of state, among other things the English judges cited in their favor the complaints of Cardinal Pietro Parolin and of Pope Francis himself over damages suffered due to the alleged malfeasance.
And naturally they did not fail to point out that Alberto Perlasca, the prelate to whom the secretariat of state had entrusted the operation, had signed a contract with Mincione that gave the English court exclusive jurisdiction over the same contract.
It is therefore difficult to predict the end of this matter, recklessly set in motion by Pope Francis himself in the name of reorganizing and cleaning up.
An attempt to defend the Church’s reputation from “that hypocritical scandal over the London building” was made by Nunzio Galantino in the August 6 interview with which he accompanied the publication of the APSA financial statements.
Galantino recalled that the Holy See invested part of the money it received in 1929 from the Italian state, as compensation for assets seized from the Church in the nineteenth century, in the purchase of prestigious properties in England, France, and Switzerland, precisely with the intention of securing these resources and, with the proceeds, supporting the Church’s mission in the world and its works of charity.
And of this, in the APSA budget of the previous year, these two good examples were given:
“It is in part thanks to the market price rents collected on prestigious properties owned in Paris and London that it has been possible to grant for use free of charge by the Apostolic Almonry a structure like the Palazzo Migliori, a short walk from from the Colonnade of Saint Peter’s, for the reception of the homeless hosted by the volunteers of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Furthermore, with the purchase of a property near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, thanks to the mediation of Sopridex, the seller has earmarked part of the proceeds of this operation for the construction of a church in a Parisian suburb.”
“It is another matter,” Galantino continued in the interview, alluding to the London case – “whether there have been malinvestments, due to errors or criminally relevant behavior.”
The trouble for Pope Francis is that he too is up to his neck in this unfortunate affair, having known of and approved every step.
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