WHAT with having labour troubles on its own doorstep and admitting that it had sold part of its holding in Italian stocks, the Vatican had quite a newsy week.
The story about the stocks came after a no comment" period in which rumours finally became too hot to be ignored.
It started with a report in Rome's Right-wing magazine Lo Specchio taken up by several daily newspapers, that the Vatican was going to shed all its Italian interests to American companies and buy into investments abroad.
What had happened, the Vatican tardily announced, was that it had sold most of its holdings in Italy's largest real estate organisation, Societa Generale Immobiliare (General Construction Company), of Rome, in which it once held the controlling interest. The sale, to a so-far unnamed buyer. reduced the Vatican's interest to about five per cent.
The Vatican's previous holdings in Societa Generale Immobiliare had been estimated at anything between £10 million and £17 million. Recently, two Vatican financiers on the Societa's board of directors were replaced.
Financial circles insist that the Vatican sold to a buyer belonging to the Rockefeller interests. One of the two new Societa directors is a lawyer and leading Italian financier, Signor Michele Sindona. He handles many big American interests in Italy.
The Vatican denied reports that it was selling Italian stocks to avoid paying £1 million a year to the Government as tax on its dividend earnings.
This tax has irked the Holy See considerably since it lost, last year, a battle to convince the Government that it had every right to be exempted from it.
The question provoked the biggest Church-State row since the signing, in 1929. of the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy.
The Vatican, which until 1968 was exempt from the tax, protested that its sudden imposition was a violation of the Treaty and, in any case, would deprive the Church of funds greatly needed for charitable and religious activities throughout the world.
The Vatican lost the battle. And, just to make the thing more galling, the Centre-Left coalition government, led by the Christian Democrat (Catholic) Party, traditionally subservient to the Holy See, debited it with not only the current tax, but with arrears back to 1963.
The Vatican has also denied that it is planning to move its investments abroad because it fears that it is only a matter of time before the powerful Italian Communist party, largest in the Western World, gets a share in the government of Italy.
An Italian government assessment puts the Vatican's Italian stock holdings at £65 million.
As to the labour trouble, the Papal gendarmerie solo, went to see the Pope personally on their behalf. Ile came away with an oiler by the Pope to send the men off for a break in the country. They were not pleased.
The gendarmes are paid a basic £65 a month, plus a five per cent rise every two years, and family allowances. They want another £8 a month and about £13 a month housing allowance. They are also demanding an extension of summer holidays from 20 to 30 days and exemption from most car taxes.
The gendarmes wrote letters to the Holy See,which got them nowhere. Also, their ,chaplain Mgr. Giovanni Sessolo went to see the Pope personally on their behalf. He came away with an offer by the Pope to send the men off for a break in the country. They were not pleased.
They did score one point. They had their working day reduced from two shifts of four hours each to one straight shift of six hours.
There are 120 gendarmes. A spokesman (even gendarmes have one) is quoted as saying: "We have a hard life. Apart from guarding the Pope, we have to defend Vatican City, act as policemen and handle internal security, as well as make visitors respect the law. We must keep order during Papal audiences and other ceremonies. And on top of all this, we have to maintain surveillance of the Pope's summer palace at Castelgandolfo".
There have been reports from time to time that those other Papal defenders, the Swiss Guards, have been murmuring into their pikes and halberds about insufficient pay and the need for improved conditions, but so far they have not been linked with the gendarmes' unrest.
However, an ominous "state of agitation" among the Vatican's 50 labourers, who look after the roads and other repair jobs, is reported. They will be satisfied with more pay, shorter working hours and longer holidays.
There is, of course, a tendency on all sides to quote the Pope's recent speech to the international labour Organisation in Geneva about the "strident contradiction" between wealthy employers and poor workers. . .
ON the principle that it is easy enough to run into complications in Rome without deliberately courting them, I
' have rarely set foot in the Vatican Bank during all my years in Rome, But regular customers (ecclesiastical division) tell me that there have been notable improvements in service since American Bishop Paul Marcinkus, appointed not long ago to head the Vatican's Economic Affairs department, has introduced a few American business methods into the place.
"Today it takes only five or 10 minutes to transact a piece of simple business that before used to take hours," a grateful priest tells me.
I do hope the Patron Saint of Banking isn't on the demoted I ist.
Author Robin Anderson's
useful little book, "Rome Churches of English Interest" (Vatican Polyglot Press) is soon to go into a third, enlarged edition, with everything brought up to date.