VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is spending the vast majority of its charitable funds not toward helping the poor but paying salaries and other administrative costs.
A new report in The Wall Street Journal reveals that the Vatican is using as much as 90% of Peter's Pence funds, marketed as the pope's charity for the poor, towards paying off deficits in the Vatican's administrative budget, including salaries and related expenses.
Total assets for Peter's Pence come to about $670 million, and Vatican sources who spoke with Vaticanista Francis Rocca revealed that about two-thirds of that money is going toward covering the Holy See's budget deficit.
"What the church doesn't advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than €50 million ($55 million) annually," writes Rocca, "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 news comes amid an investigation for alleged graft and money laundering at the Vatican over a $250 million investment of Peter's Pence money in an upscale London property. It also comes on the heels of reports that the same charitable funds were used to invest in a firm that put more than $1 million towards an explicit homosexual film.
Documents seized from an Oct. 1 Vatican raid and leaked to Italian media show that the money for the London real estate had previously been invested in an oil rig off the coast of Angola, before the Vatican sold its shares in 2015 owing to concerns over the volatility of the oil market.
It then turned its sites onto the property in London's Chelsea District, converting it into 50 luxury apartments. The purchase failed to turn out the expected profits, causing the Vatican to lose on its investment.
While the public reacted in shock to the multi-million-dollar transaction involving the pope's fund for the poor, the pontiff justified the venture as "good administration."
"First of all, in good administration it is normal for a sum to come from Peter's Pence, and what do I do? Put it in a drawer? No, this is bad administration," said Pope Francis on the plane back from Thailand in late November. "I look to make an investment, and when there is the need, to give."
"This is good administration," he claimed.
Most Catholics might take issue with the pontiff's claim, believing their donations are going directly to alleviating poverty around the world and not toward multi-million-dollar investments in luxury real estate or foreign oil.
The Vatican's own website urges Catholics to donate to Peter's Pence 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."
In light of news that the bulk of the pontiff's fund for the poor is not only being sunk into unprofitable business ventures but is also being used towards salaries and other administrative costs at the Holy See, Catholics may start giving less than they already are.
Peter's Pence is suffering from a drop in donations in recent years, from $67 million in 2017 down to $55 million last year. Vatican watchers say the drop is due to loss of trust in the Church after the Summer of Shame and the worldwide clerical sex abuse crisis.
According to Rocca, "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."
Recent reports also reveal that a curial official admitted to using American grant money to write off a questionable 50-million-euro loan to a scandal-ridden Rome hospital.
The hospital in question, the Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata (IDI), was investigated and indicted in 2016 for embezzlement, money laundering and tax fraud to the tune of nearly 1 billion euros.
After securing the loan, IDI was unable to repay the amount — leading to the Vatican's attempt to recoup its losses through securing a grant via the U.S.-based Papal Foundation. The Vatican's Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin recently admitted to being behind the controversial $25 million loan, rammed through with the help of Washington, D.C.'s Cdl. Donald Wuerl.
The grant led to an internal uprising among Papal Foundation members in 2017, with a number resigning in protest.
While Parolin has pledged to repay the loan, the terms remain broad and undefined — with no signatory on the loan, no interest rate and no penalties assessed for failure to repay — leading to further internal unrest and criticism among members of the foundation.