Peters Pence and Other Stuff

Have you ever wondered where the money comes from to pay the operating costs of the Vatican's world-wide diplomatic involvement? Who pays the bills at the Vatican? And with what?

I recall being told, when I was a Catholic kid, that every Catholic congregation in the world contributed to the support of the Vatican and the Holy See. I had seen a lot of filled-to-overflowing collection baskets at a lot of Masses. So what if the folks back in Rome took a little cut of the financial pie every week? That seemed reasonable to me.

I don't recall ever thinking about the Vatican's finances again until the late 1950's, when I no longer considered myself to be Catholic. The stimulus for that momentary interest came in the form of Rome's response to widespread criticism of what appeared to be the Vatican's indifference to the plight of the world's impoverished peoples. Why not, critics asked, sell off a few of the many properties and artworks owned by the Catholic Church and use the proceeds to feed and clothe the destitute?

Rome's response, according to the article that appeared, as I recall, in Time magazine, was to conduct an inventory of “all the Church's property.” The reported total value of the Church's property was reported as being just over 50 million dollars. Perhaps this figure included only Vatican holdings. I don't know, but I do know that the figure seemed to me to be preposterously low. Not that it mattered, for even if the Vatican had sold all her art treasures, the revenues would likely not have been sufficient to meet the needs of the world's poorest for even a year.

Once again, I ceased to think about the finances of the Catholic Church—until one day a few years ago. That day's edition of the Zenit news report, included an article dealing with the amount and disposition of the previous year's Peter's Pence collection. For those who may not know what Peter's Pence is, I offer these words from a Catholilc Website:

The Peter’s Pence Collection unites us in solidarity to the Holy See and its works of charity to those in need. Your generosity allows the Pope to respond to our suffering brothers and sisters with promptness, love, and compassion, so God’s people will not feel alone in their time of misfortune. -- Peter's Pence Collection , © United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Peter's Pence thing has been around for a very long time. This is one of those times when the Catholic Church calls upon the Scriptures (Acts 4:34, 11:29) for support, without help from the Church Fathers or other sources of so-called Sacred Tradition. After a time, giving to the Holy See became more formalized:

By the end of the eighth century the Anglo-Saxons felt so closely linked to the Bishop of Rome that they decided to send a regular annual contribution to the Holy Father. It was thus that the Denarius Sancti Petri (Alms of Saint Peter) originated and spread throughout Europe.

Like other practices of its kind, this custom underwent many changes in the course of the centuries, until in 1871 Pope Pius IX gave it his approval in the Encyclical Letter Saepe Venerabilis (5 August 1871).

At present the collection is taken up throughout the Catholic world either on 29 June, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, or on the Sunday closest to this Solemnity—Peter's Pence Office, An ancient custom still alive today

Early in his papacy, John Paul II made it clear where the support for his papacy should come from and how the monies should be used:

“The primary source of support for the Apostolic See should be in offerings freely given by Catholics throughout the whole world, along with any other people of good will. This is in harmony with a tradition dating back to the Gospel (cf. Lk 10:7) and the teaching of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 11:14)”. (Letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State, 20 November 1982).—Peter's Pence Office, Peter's Pence Today

How much does Peter's Pence add to the Vatican's coffers? Think about it. Rome claims that there are one billion Catholic faithful scattered around the world. If each one of them dropped only a single penny into the Peter's Pence collection place on June 29th, that would amount to some ten million dollars. What if each dropped in a nickle? Or a dime? Maybe a quarter? Wow!

Actually, it seems that in 2002, the average Catholic kicked in just over a nickle to support the pope's needs and assistance programs.

Peter's Pence collection last year took in $52.8 million, which John Paul II allocated to charitable works in the Third World, and to aid populations hurt by wars or natural calamities.

The report on the collection of funds was presented Tuesday at the meeting of the Holy See's Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Financial Problems.

According to a Vatican statement issued today, the exact amount collected last year was $52,836,693.50. – Zenit News Service, ZE03070907, Peter's Pence Collected $52.8 Million in 2002, © 2003, Innovative Media, Inc.

According to the article, the amount collected was up 1.8% compared to the 2001 collection. That was the good news. The bad news is that the Holy See and Vatican City had a financially bad year in 2002.

During the meeting, it was reported that the Holy See's financial statements for the year 2002 registered a deficit of 13.5 million euros ($15.2 million). For its part, Vatican City (the administration of the small state with its institutions) registered a deficit of 16 million euros ($18.1 million). A fuller report will be presented to the press on Thursday.--Ibid.

Peter's Pence is not the only source of income for the Holy See and Vatican City. Though the folks at St. Peter's are not terribly open concerning financial matters, some information is available.

The property and revenues of the Holy See are now no longer administered by the Apostolic Camara but by two separate bodies, which, however, work in close association with one another and the Vatican Bank. None of these publishes any accounts. The Amministrazione dei Beni della Santa Sede is responsible for current domestic expenditure and is under a small commission of three Cardinals assisted by a number of laymen, experts in financial matters. The revenues which it administers include income from the property and capital investments of the Holy See, the fees charged for various services performed by the roman curia, the fees charged when orders and decorations are conferred, occasional gifts or legacies, and, finally, the so-called Peter's Pence, the income provided by the voluntary contributions and collections of the Catholic faithful all over the world; those well placed to know say that this source of income varies greatly from yeaer to year. No taxes are levied by the Holy See.

The Amministrazione Speziale della Santa Sede has a different function. It is also under a small commission of Cardinals—often the same ones—and is similarly assisted by a professional staff of lay specialists whose expertise in financial matters is equalled only by their discrection. It is responsible for the funds which the Italian Government paid to the Holy See as compensation for the loss of the city of Rome, under the financial agreement which was part of the Lateran Settlement in 1929. The assets of this Amministazione were originally worth 1,750 million lire, of which 1,000 million lire were in Italian State bonds and 750 million were in cash. On the Italian side this was estimated at the time to be the equivalent of 450 million gold lire. What use may have been made of the cash, and what the total assets of this Amministrazione are today, it's a matter for conjecture.

The Vatican City State has its own financial administration, deriving its revenues from administrative fees, from its postal and telegraph service—the sale of its own stamps being particularly profitable—from a surcharge on the retail prices of the monopoly which obtains all food and other goods tax and duty free, and from the money charged for admission to the Vatican Museum and Galleries. In addition, it receives a subsidy from the Amministrazione dei Beni della Santa Sede.—Heinrich Scharp, How The Catholic Church Is Governed, © 1960 Herder KG, pp. 101-103

For those interested in reading more about the finances of the Catholic Church, I suggest the following:

Edward Jay Epstein, The Secret of the Vatican (Short Take)

Avro Manhattan, The Vatican In World Politics, Chap. 2, The Vatican State [Note: When I checked, the original link to this page was dead. When I googled for a new link, most that I found also were dead. I found a few others, but the link to chapteer 2 was dead. Slow and steady wins the race and I found the entire book. This link takes you directly to Chapter 2.]

Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., In God We Trust

Economic Report of the Holy See for 2000, By Head of Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See

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