In Depth

Is the Vatican facing a cash crisis?

Sex scandals and poor management hit papal coffers, claims new book

The Vatican is facing a rapidly escalating cash crisis because of bad management, corruption and a drop in donations, a newly published book has claimed.

Investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi claims in Universal Judgment that the Vatican lost nearly €44m last year and says that attempts to bring about change are being “blocked” and “sabotaged”.

“Pope Francis’s reforms of the Vatican’s finances are failing, like a plaster placed on a haemorrhage,” Nuzzi told The Times.

The writer was a key figure in the 2012 Vatican leaks scandal that exposed alleged corruption and spying, and resulted in the arrest and jailing of the Pope’s butler.

What is alleged?

Nuzzi’s latest book quotes a Vatican insider as saying the financial deficit is “recurring and structural, has reached worrying levels and we risk a default if no urgent steps are taken”.

One of the key causes of the financial trouble is a drop in donations, resulting from the damage caused to the Catholic Church’s reputation by numerous sex abuse scandals.

Donations have fallen from over €100m in 2006 to less than €60m today, claims Nuzzi’s book.

The shortfall is exacerbated as “inept managers waste cash and entrenched, privileged prelates resist Francis’s transparency drive”, reports the Times.

And poor management of the nearly 3,000 properties owned by the Vatican’s real estate office, Apsa, has also contributed. Of the 2,926 properties, 800 are reportedly empty while others are rented out free of charge.

Apsa recorded a €22.6m loss in 2018, its first ever year in the red, and that represented a significant blow for what Nuzzi called “the financial lungs of the Vatican”.

“The apocalypse is close and nothing is changing,” said Nuzzi. “I have shown the numbers to experts who said if the Vatican was a company it would be bankrupt.”

What is the Vatican’s response?

The book claims that an internal investigation is under way within the Vatican after its secretariat asked the state bank to prop up investment in a Sloane Avenue office building in London.

And the Vatican has established an emergency task force to tackle its huge financial losses, says Nuzzi.

His book also claims that an assistant of a friend of the Pope, who was hired to raise money for the church, failed in his job and was under investigation for “allegedly brokering bribes in Sicily”, says the Times.

In 2014, Pope Francis named the Australian cardinal George Pell as his economy minister. He found €1bn concealed by various Vatican departments attempting to hide their wealth from one another.

But his campaign against poor money management ended when he was tried and jailed for child sex abuse earlier this year. “Before his arrest, Pell’s work was continuously being sabotaged at the Vatican,” Nuzzi said.

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