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Francis The Pocket-Picking Pope

Report: Pope quietly uses donations meant to serve the needy to pay Vatican bills -- and invest in dodgy projects
Pope Francis in Turin

A conservative Catholic friend passed along to me this article from today’s Wall Street Journal (paywalled), with a salty line stating — I’ll put this nicely — that this is why he and his wife give nothing to these, um, dissembling churchmen. Excerpts from the piece:

Every year, Catholics around the world donate tens of millions of dollars to the pope. Bishops exhort the faithful to support the weak and suffering through the pope’s main charitable appeal, called Peter’s Pence.

What the church doesn’t advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than more than €50 million ($55 million) annually, goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget, while as little as 10% is spent on charitable works, according to people familiar with the funds.

The little-publicized breakdown of how the Holy See spends Peter’s Pence, known only among senior Vatican officials, is raising concern among some Catholic Church leaders that the faithful are being misled about the use of their donations, which could further hurt the credibility of the Vatican’s financial management under Pope Francis.

Can you imagine donating to a charity that only spends ten cents of every dollar on actual charity? Who would do that? The Pope is not breaking any laws by doing this — he has a right to spend the donations as he likes — but this is not what the Church tells Catholics it is doing with the donations:

The use of Peter’s Pence donations mostly to plug the budget deficit is particularly sensitive for Pope Francis, who began his pontificate by calling for a “poor church for the poor,” and has continually emphasized the church’s mission to care for and advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable.

The head of the Vatican’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the use of the funds.

Peter’s Pence, a special collection from Catholics around the world every June, is billed as a fundraising effort for the needy. The Vatican’s website for the collection, www.peterspence.va, describes it as a “gesture of charity, a way of supporting the activity of the Pope and the universal Church in favoring especially the poorest and Churches in difficulty. It is also an invitation to pay attention and be near to new forms of poverty and fragility.”

When asked about it last month, Francis defended this apparent sleight of hand:

“When the money from Peter’s Pence arrives, what do I do? I put it in a drawer? No. This is bad administration. I try to make an investment and when I need to give, when there is a need, throughout the year, the money is taken and that capital does not devalue, it stays the same or it increases a bit,” the pope said last month.

The Journal reporter, Francis X. Rocca, says that “no more of a quarter” of the Peter’s Pence donations are available for investments, because most of the money goes to run the Vatican and to keep its personnel living in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

Obviously the Vatican cannot run on prayers alone, and there is nothing wrong with the Pope asking the faithful to donate for the sake of its operational costs. But that’s not what they thought they were giving to with Peter’s Pence. They were told that these funds were all going to help the needy. Some people are more needy than others, it seems.

Ed Condon at the independent Catholic News Agency has been doing great work this fall exposing details of the Vatican’s financial shenanigans in relation to bad real estate deals originating in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State (which also oversees Peter’s Pence). For example, this from the other day:

A fund in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. The fund is under investigation by Vatican authorities.

The fund, Centurion Global Fund, made headlines this week that it used the Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that the Centurion Global Fund has raised around 70 million euro in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is the source of at least two-thirds of the fund’s assets. The Vatican’s investment is reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Vatican Curia.

So, money that Catholics from around the world give yearly to support charitable work close to the heart of the Pope have actually been financing a biographical movies about rock star and gay rights crusader Elton John.

I think it’s gonna be a long, long time before a lot of Catholics give any more pence to the current Peter.




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