VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The closure of churches following the Wuhan virus pandemic has forced Pope Francis to postpone the annual collection for Peter's Pence until churches reopen.
"In view of the current health crisis, the Holy Father has decided that, for this year 2020, the Peter's Pence Collection, which traditionally takes place around the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, on June 29, will be transferred throughout the world to the XXVII Sunday of Ordinary Time, Oct. 4, the day dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi," the Vatican announced Wednesday.
Father Augusto Zampini, a member of Pope Francis' newly created Wuhan virus task force, admitted that the Holy See is losing income as a result of the lockdown and has been compelled to delve into emergency financial reserves to keep its head above water.
The Vatican is no different from a secular company and some high-ranking Vatican officials have offered to take salary cuts, Zampini told the Associated Press last week.
The Vatican's 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."
But donors, especially from the United States, have been increasingly hesitant to contribute to the scandal-plagued fund after recent revelations that up to 90% of Peter's Pence money was being used to plug administrative deficits.
"What the Church doesn't advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than €50 million ($55 million) annually," disclosed Vaticanista Francis 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."
Vatican officials have stonewalled and frustrated the most dogged efforts of financial auditors to examine the accounts in their entirety, reports investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who predicts a total meltdown of Vatican finances by 2023.
In his book Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican, Nuzzi claims that "the management of the Peter's Pence is an enigma cloaked in the most impenetrable secrecy."
"Every year the amount of the collection is publicized but there is no explanation of how it is administered," he writes. "In other words, we know how much money has been collected from the faithful but not how it is spent. Absolute secrecy is maintained around this detail."
Nuzzi confirms that cash from the collection "meant to support the pastoral mission of the Church instead ends up being used to cover the deficits of the dicasteries."
In 2015, Cdl. George Pell, then Vatican prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, disclosed that the investigations surrounding Peter's Pence had turned up hundreds of millions of euros not reported in the Vatican's balance sheets. Further investigations revealed that a total of €1.4 billion had not been entered into the balance sheets.
Last month, Church Militant reported that the Vatican had announced draconian cost-cutting measures to stave off an impending financial meltdown, triggered by the closure of the Vatican museums and other tourist sites following the pandemic.
The registered letter, signed by Cdl. Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Vatican Governorate, warned of an "uncertain future" as "we do not know how long the unavoidable economic recession will last."
Donations to Peter's Pence plummeted in recent years, from $67 million in 2017 down to $55 million in 2018. In Dec. 2019, the assets of Peter's Pence were reported to have dwindled since Francis became pope in 2013 from more than $775 million to $665 million.
In Nov. 2019, answering questions regarding recent investment scandals using Peter's Pence resources, Pope Francis said that investing funds from Peter's Pence is an acceptable form of financial management if the investments are solid.
"Peter's Pence should be spent in one year, one year and a half, until the other collection arrives which is made worldwide. And this is good administration," he maintained, but added that "the Church must be ethical in its use of funds."
A month later, Church Militant reported that money from the fund was invested in the 2019 Elton John biopic Rocketman, featuring an explicit gay sex scene.
Under Cdl. Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, and his deputy, Abp. Edgar Peña Parra, the Secretariat directed $200 million from Peter's Pence toward the purchase of a luxury apartment building in the heart of London's exclusive West End, with another $250 million apparently funneled to fraudulent legal firms set up to cover the purchase of the property.
According to documents leaked to Italian media, the Secretariat of State owns and manages roughly $715 million in funds, a sum "deriving in large part from donations received by the Holy Father for charitable works [Peter's Pence] and for the sustenance of the Roman Curia."
Peter's Pence had its beginnings in Denarius Sancti Petri (Alms of St. Peter), when Anglo-Saxons around the end of the eighth century decided to support the bishop of Rome with a regular annual contribution.
The practice spread throughout Europe and was officially approved by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Saepe Venerabilis (Aug. 5, 1871).