Vatican Tapes Reveal Pope's Struggle to Clean Up Finances

  • Secret recording has Francis saying `costs are out of control'
  • Leaked documents show secrecy, bad management, vast wealth
Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

The scale of the challenge facing Pope Francis as he struggles to overhaul Vatican finances will be set out this week by the publication of confidential documents and clandestine recordings of his meetings.

Two books out in Italy and other countries on Thursday will highlight secrecy, mismanagement and huge wealth at the heart of the Catholic Church. On the eve of publication, the Vatican arrested a senior Church official and a public relations consultant in an investigation into the alleged leak of confidential documents. One book quotes an unauthorized recording of Pope Francis protesting to officials about Vatican finances.

“Without exaggerating, we can say that a good part of the costs are out of control,” Pope Francis said in the recording, according to the book Merchants in the Temple, by Gianluigi Nuzzi. The Vatican declined to comment on the books.

The Argentine Francis said he wanted “a poor Church for the poor” on his election in March 2013 and has stamped his humble style on the papacy, but as he pushed for more openness and transparency in Vatican financial and economic agencies he’s faced resistance from the Rome bureaucracy.

“The revelations are more embarrassing for the Church than for Pope Francis,” Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of the book Avarice, said in a phone interview. “There’s a great difference between the pope’s words, and his will to change things, and the Church which is still very rich and often works for itself rather than for others.”

St Peter’s Pence

According to extracts of Fittipaldi’s book released ahead of publication, Peter’s Pence donations studied by auditor KPMG totaled 378 million euros in 2013, a sum which does not feature in the budget of the Holy See. A report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s money-laundering watchdog, said that in 2010 the funds were spent mainly on departments of the Curia, the Rome government of the Church.

The Bambin Gesu’ Foundation, which gathers donations for a leading children’s hospital in Rome, allegedly paid 200,000 euros for renovations at the home of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s former secretary of state, or prime minister. The book quotes Bertone as saying that he paid the Vatican “the sum requested as my contribution for the renovations.” Bertone’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Real estate owned by the Church is worth an estimated 4 billion euros, four times as much as its book value, according to Fittipaldi.

Pope Recording

Nuzzi’s book, Merchants in the Temple, quotes from a recording on July 3, 2013 of a meeting between Francis and officials on Vatican finances.

“We must clarify better the finances of the Holy See and make them more transparent,” Francis is quoted as saying in an extract published by the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Francis, descending into detail despite his elevated stature, complains about the way invoices are paid. “One of the people in charge would say to me: ‘But they come with the invoice and so we have to pay ...’ No, we don’t pay. If something is done without an estimate, without authorization, we don’t pay.” The pope enunciates slowly: “Clarity. This is what is done in the most humble firms and we must do it too.”

According to Nuzzi, poor book-keeping includes the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican Bank. Account holders there still include Pope John Paul I, credited with a balance of 110,864 euros, and his predecessor Paul VI, in credit with 125,310 euros on one account and 296,151 dollars on another. Both have been dead since 1978.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.