by George 1
TO maintain the structures of the Church and its charitable and missionary work, always growing in scale and complexity, constantly millions of pounds are needed. In turn, regular income requires and generates capital. So the Church has to take thought for the morrow, deciding how best to raise the revenues its work in the world demands, and how to employ and invest them most sensibly.
Unlike the twice-blessed priest who won a fortune on the pools the other week, it cannot simply give its wealth away. But in today's Church, increasingly its wealth is seen as an anomaly, and by many devout and sincere Catholics as a scandal.
There have been two developments of which the Vatican, and the Holy Father in particular, have shown themselves very aware. First, there is the new sensitivity of the Christian conscience to the material needs of the poor of the world, and notably the poor of the so-called developing countries.
Second, there is the fact that in the secular world, commercial and industrial enterprises are being forced to reveal more and more about their operations and resources, whether they are small national firms or giant multinational corporations. Should the Vatican disclose less about its financial resources and operations than national states in their budgets and business concerns in their annual reports?
Gradually, the facts about "the Vatican finances" are becoming known. Corrado Pallenberg. in an appendix to his book ("The Vatican Finances," Peter Owen £2.75) says that "if someone should attempt another survey of the financial empire of the Vatican in ten years' time. lie would find the overall pic ture considerably changed: more rational, more international and less secretive."
But he also pinpoints a challenging dilemma when he asks whether the Vatican is changing its financial policy to implement Pope Paul's dictum that the Church must be poor and appear to be poor, or to reinvest so as to improve financial performance and thereby make its work in the world more effective.
Both these motives are at present operating within the Church, with Catholics, according to politics and ternperament, favouring either the one or the other.
Clearly, however, as the Vatican does reveal more about the central finances of the universal Church, the tension that this dilemma expresses will become more acute. One can only hope that those who are imp4tient with the institutional needs of the Church, and its I nks with capitalist systems. and those down-to-earth loyalists who see no call for a radical reappraisal of its institutional structures, will be tolerably understanding of each other's viewpoint.
In the meantime, there is no doubt that whether we think the Church should be less secretive about its finances for the sake of efficiency, or less secretive for the sake of getting closer to the spirit of Gospel poverty. the past record of the Vatican's finances makes disturbing reading.
It is greatly to Corrado Pallenbcrg's credit that his facts have been carefully checked, his speculations are admitted to be such, and his judgments are generally sympathetic and temperate.
"The Vatican is not yet a glass house into which everybody can Took." he concludes, "it is still a considerable financial power and is likely to remain so, but the legend of its wealth has been reduced to more realistic proportions, and many of the unpleasant shadows that surrounded its dealings have started to fade away."
Before reaching this conclusion, the author ranges very readably and sometimes facetiously over the history of the Papacy, its central financial organisation, and its dependence on American and German money. He notes that the Osserwttore 1? )??1(U( called one estimate of the Vatican's productive capital as being between 7,000 and 8,000 billion lire "simply fantastic." The figure was less than a hundredth of this.
But to the 10 billion lire— or £40 million—that emerges„, one must add, says Pallere: berg, the other sources of income such as rents from Vatican owned buildings, Peter's Pence, donations, legacies, and so forth. "What it all amounts to nobody so far has been able or willing to reveal."
Some Catholic readers may be offended by this journalistic probing; others may dispute the estimates or argue that the Church is poor in relation to its mighty tasks of succour and evangelisation. But we would be wrong to ignore the relevance of the subject to the transformation of the Church in our times.
George Bull is F.ditor of the "Director" and deputy chairman of the Church's Justice and Peace Com