AS the first prefect (from February 2014) of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell quickly acquired a reputation for confrontational rigour as he worked to reform the Vatican’s notoriously slipshod and corrupt accounts. Even detractors admitted he seemed to find his true métier in the role. In late 2014, he distributed a new handbook to all Vatican offices. It “brings Financial Management practices in line with international standards,” he wrote. Fans of Godfather III will remember Archbishop Gilday’s discussion with Michael about the Corleone family’s desire to acquire a controlling interest in Immobiliare. “We have directors, we have rules – we have very old rules,” he says – the admonition really haggling. Well, Cardinal Pell overturned those old rules. Since he began what he calls his “retreat” following a conviction on rigged charges in Victoria, it would be fair to say financial standards at the Vatican have declined. The Wall Street Journal reports that money – a lot of money – is disappearing again:
Every year, Catholics around the world donate tens of millions of dollars to the pope. Bishops exhort the faithful to support the weak and suffering through the pope’s main charitable appeal, called Peter’s Pence.
What the church doesn’t advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than more than €50 million ($55 million) annually, goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget, while as little as 10% is spent on charitable works, according to people familiar with the funds.
The little-publicized breakdown of how the Holy See spends Peter’s Pence, known only among senior Vatican officials, is raising concern among some Catholic Church leaders that the faithful are being misled about the use of their donations, which could further hurt the credibility of the Vatican’s financial management under Pope Francis.
It gets worse: it turns out that not only is Peter’s Pence not reaching the destitute, a lot of the money is being funnelled into the movie business. And we’re not talking about spiritually uplifting films either:
A fund in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. The fund is under investigation by Vatican authorities.
The fund, Centurion Global Fund, made headlines this week that it used the Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”
Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that the Centurion Global Fund has raised around 70 million euro in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is the source of at least two-thirds of the fund’s assets. The Vatican’s investment is reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Vatican Curia.
So there you have it. Cash-strapped Catholics in the pews gave money to the Vatican for the poor and ended up boosting the reputation and record sales of Elton John. Mr John is not thought to be food-deprived. The other scandal involving Peter’s Pence surrounds an attempt by the Vatican Secretariat of State to spend $390 million to buy a former Harrod’s warehouse in London’s swank Chelsea. According to the Italian magazine L’Espresso, before the scheme was shut down, the Secretariat was being “overcharged” by “several Italian middlemen.” The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Egmont Group, a network of more than 160 national financial intelligence units, suspended the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) from access to its secure web system, through which information is shared about money laundering and other financial crimes. When the Vatican’s own financial regulator is excluded as untrustworthy because of the Secretariat of State’s association with “Italian middlemen,” the situation is dire. So much for George Pell’s handbook.