“If we don’t know how to look after money, which you can see, how can we look after the souls of the faithful, which you can’t see?”
That is the question that probably sums Gianluigi Nuzzi’s controversial work — Merchants in the Temple — that exposes what could possibly be one of the biggest challenges the most powerful church in world faces to date: the mismanagement of the Vatican’s finances.
Some might question the legitimacy of the work and the author, but Nuzzi is an Italian journalist who has written several best selling books and was also privileged enough to get a hold on recordings, reports, and minutes of meetings involving The Holy See and The Governorate attended by Pope Francis that enabled him to illustrate the economic side of the Vatican we don’t usually understand.
We all know that the Catholic Church is one of the richest institution, with the Vatican as a masterpiece in itself, but anybody that would get a hold of the book and read through, would still be shocked as to how much the pinnacles of Catholicism commit the most petty mistakes in terms of money. And we are not just talking about the mismanagement of small funds here.
Nuzzi blatantly tells the world that the Vatican has misappropriated billions of Euros, most of which come from the donations of the faithful — yes, your money.
The book is comprised of about 210 pages tackling different aspects of Pope Francis’ fight to transparency but here are just the three things we have learned from Merchants of the Temple:
The book of accounts is understated
The Merchants in the Temple reveals that the Catholic church, just like other entities, engage in different financial pursuits. As a matter of fact, the new Pope even established its own Commission for Reference to look into the Vatican’s financial affairs.
Also, Francis’ new set of auditors is composed of accountants and economists from Europe that out of their love of the church, reported to the new Pope the spiralling state of their financial situation.
According to the letter signed by these auditors, there were expenditures that are either unreflected or understated in the Vatican’s book of accounts.
In their own words they describe the situation as, “…complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping of both the Holy See and the Governorate. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to provide a clear estimate of the actual financial status of the Vatican as a whole and of the single entities of which it consists.”
For instance, the current value of the Vatican’s estate is estimated at 2.7 billion Euros. This is seven times higher than what is actually written in the books. Another is that, as part of their retirement program given to cardinals and bureaucrats, homes and apartments are given at a rate that is lower than market value. That, had these been computed correctly, could have generated around 20 million Euros than what it actually generates at around 7 million. Add to that there are institutional infrastructures that are non income generating but if managed accordingly, could precipitate up to 30 million Euros.
The monetary protocols are disregarded
When it comes to projects involving bidding from suppliers, what was discovered is that the Vatican is given overly priced materials and no actual quotations that they willingly paid for — that is without proper bidding nor estimates.
In Francis’ own assessment, their financial state is “spiralling out of control” that he ordered, moving forward, if there are no estimates even when there is invoice, they do not pay.
However, the Vatican, as what it seems, had been equipped with proper protocols in terms of monetary management nonetheless, these are being disregarded.
During the meeting with the Curia to discuss the financial affairs, Francis even mentioned the mishandling of investments in other parts of Europe. One example was when another church hired a new accountant, it was discovered that part of the church’s investments, which was deemed “missing” — from the donations of the faithful — actually went to weapons manufacturing. In addition, another billion Euros were also lost due to the mismanagement of investments.
This is also the case for employment in the Vatican — hiring is based on cronyism or nepotism, or personal connections and that these new hires were employed based on vague projects. Note that instead of just one human resource department, there are 14 that represent each unit under the Holy See.
Beatification is a matter of cost
On the other hand, the auditors also reminded that the lack of transparency and improper handling are not just confined within the economic movements of the Holy See and the Governorate but is also dispersed “elsewhere.”
People have been taught that in order for a person to be considered a candidate to become a saint, miracles should have been done in his or her name. Nevertheless, beatification also appeared to be a matter of cost as well.
The cost for a single beatification in the past would be valued at about 500,000 Euros, but within several years, it rose to about 750,000 Euros.
What is also appalling is that when one beatification is fully funded by the faithful, in other words, if one cause had so many donations, it is most likely that the beatification process would pursue. If not, the candidate would be rejected — as in the cases of other causes in the past.
Merchants in the Temple
Basing our judgment from the narration made by Nuzzi, we can say then that the Catholic church is not only a religious entity, but is also an European merchant.
With billions of Euros coming in from the donations of the Catholic followers, it is no longer a question of how this church can afford all of its grotesque causes without even a hint of budgetary restrictions.
However, we can also see that this very entity is also plagued by the mistakes we think they cannot make out of their supposed religious and fair judgments, but as petty as it looks, it seemed that this church is also threatened down to its foundations by the most common driving force in the material world: money.
It is odd though, that no matter how much the auditors have reported the state of affairs to former Pontiffs, these were just shrugged off. Especially, when the money being circulated in different investments is from the people they so call “faithful.”
Thus, it is known that these church donations must go to appropriate beneficiaries. Those are homeless people and abandoned children. The hungry. Different foundations.
It is very disappointing to find out that members of the Church are so reckless with their finances that they directly contributed to causes they should not be part of.
What is also being implied here is that the people who decide on where the money goes are being deceived by outside forces. And they allow themselves to be so when they decided not to follow protocols.
What is also surprising is that when being interviewed, members of the Church seemed unaware of their financial movements. In short, there is no single standard being followed.
This issue is deemed so severe and controversial that the March 2014 theft of the commission documents is thought of by Nuzzi as an inside job. That is because the thieves knew exactly where the files are located.
It is also made evident that the book of accounts were possibly manipulated so that it appears that there is no discrepancy in the church if only to benefit Vatican bureaucrats.
Now, a true believer must be open to the idea that there is something wrong and there must be something to be corrected. Francis sees the need to do so hence, it means that a problem does exist.
If the faithful would continue to turn a blind eye thinking this is another tactic to put their church down, they are tolerating mischief within the walls of their own religious order.
The queries worthy to be asked are these: What happened to their commitment to humility? What happened to their commitment to honesty?
And the most baffling question is, where did the undeclared billion of Euros go? Or if you would like to be a little religious about this, how could you trust your priceless soul to those who can’t even be trusted with “just” a couple billion Euros?