Vatican City, July 13, 2022 / 4:35 a.m. (CNA).
The Vatican’s “trial of the century”, which was due to continue in September, has so far offered plenty of drama and raised many unanswered questions. One of the most sensitive, not just for Catholics who gave money to the Vatican, is this: Was Peter’s Pence used to fund investments like the now infamous London property deal?
Donations to Peter’s Pence have fallen by around 15% in 2021, a marked drop. Nevertheless, about $47 million was raised last year, with the largest donor countries being the United States (29.3%), followed by Italy (11.3%), Germany (5 .2%), Korea (3.2%) and France (2.7%) .
The pious practice is said to have started 1000 years ago under the Saxons in England. But when the Vatican confirmed it was selling its shares of a London property for $223 million in a July 1 statement, it made a point of saying that the startling losses suffered – estimated at $119 million – did not in no way touched “Peter’s Pence”. or donations from the faithful.
Why this precision? Was money meant to help the poor misused in the case?
While the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the property are at the center of the ongoing trial in the Vatican courts, with charges of fraud and embezzlement against 10 people, the question of how Peter’s Pence was used requires a look behind the scenes.
Vatican finances have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, and Pope Francis has ordered the removal of accountability for the financial funds and property assets of the Secretariat of State.
The Vatican’s Prefect of Economy, Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, SJ, acknowledged “that people have the right to know how we spend the money given to us.”
But in 2014, before that papal decision and greater push for transparency, the Secretary of State was looking to invest in an oil project in Angola, then scrapped that plan, considering investing in London property instead. The ongoing Vatican lawsuit covers, among other concerns, the issue of borrowed money and loans surrounding this deal.
During the June 20 hearing last week, Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former Vatican official, explained during questioning that when he started working at the Secretariat of State, there was an Obolo Fund.
Obolo di San Pietro is Italian for Peter’s Pence.
Tirabassi told the court that there was originally an office dedicated to collecting donations in the Secretary of State. According to him, these donations were “managed” by opening dedicated accounts with many banks.
According to Tirabassi, there were about “70 to 80 accounts” to this effect at the Vatican’s own “bank”, the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR). Other accounts existed with the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) but also with Italian financial institutions such as Credit Artigiano and Italian post (the banking system of the Italian Post).
This tangle of accounts has been reduced over the past few decades, streamlining donation management. To this end, a “Peter’s Pence account” – literally Conto Obolo — at the Secretariat of State has been designated to hold the funds in a single account.
However, while this account was still in place at the time of the London agreement, it apparently no longer managed the actual donations of Peter’s Pence, but rather the resources of the Secretary of State.
Asked about the London and Peter’s Pence deal in a June 2021 interview with Vatican News, Fr. Alves said: “Peter’s Pence investments have traditionally been associated with investments from other funds assigned to the Secretariat of State. It was not easy to say that this part, these shares or this building belongs to Peter’s Pence and that it belongs to other funds.
According to Peter’s Pence 2021 balance sheet figures, Peter’s Pence allocated approximately $56 million in 2021 to support activities promoted by the Holy See in fulfilling the apostolic mission of the Holy Father and nearly $10 million were allocated to projects that immediately help those in need.
In practice, Peter’s Pence’s $56 million helped fund the Roman Curia’s $238 million expenditure.
It is not surprising that most of the St Peter’s Pence collection is destined for the Holy See.
This was the primary purpose of the collection, and has been for centuries, especially since the 19th century, after the fall of the Papal States. The aim is therefore precisely to support the Holy Father.