The pope's financial gospel and the Vatican bank

The pope's financial gospel and the Vatican bank

  Pope Francis prays in the chapel of the Vatican guest house

UPDATE: Yesterday it was the church and wealth. Today Pope Francis took aim at the shortcomings of the global economic system.

Addressing several new ambassadors to the Vatican, the pope said:

"The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption."

The full test is here, and well worth reading. Yesterday, he spoke about the church and money.

“When a priest, a bishop goes after money, the people do not love him – and that's a sign…. St. Paul did not have a bank account, he worked, and when a bishop, a priest goes on the road to vanity, he enters into the spirit of careerism – and this hurts the church very much – [and] ends up being ridiculous: he boasts, he is pleased to be seen, all powerful – and the people do not like that!”

The financial gospel of Pope Francis has become a little clearer every day, and these words from his morning Mass today in the Vatican guest house underline his conviction that the church’s pastors need to be true pastors – not business managers, CEOs or investment strategists.

The line about St. Paul not having a bank account, of course, brings to mind the Vatican bank and its future under the new pope. The bank has had more than its share of problems and scandals over the years, and there’s been speculation that Pope Francis envisions far-reaching reforms or even its suppression.

Dismantling the bank is not very likely, I believe, in part because of a last-minute decision made by Pope Benedict. Two weeks before he retired, Benedict appointed a new director of the bank, German financier Ernst von Freyburg; the move was seen as an effort to place the institution firmly on the path of reform.

This week, von Freyburg announced to his staff that the bank would publish its financial accounts before the end of the year and would launch its own website, in steps toward greater transparency.

A month ago, at the Vatican’s request, European banking regulators said they would expand their evaluation of the Vatican bank’s efforts to prevent money-laundering and the funding of terrorism – another move toward compliancy with international norms.

There are many who wonder, “Why does the Vatican need a bank?” and even some cardinals have recently posed that question. Some Vatican officials believe it’s a matter of sovereignty, and say that placing Vatican financial operations under the control of foreign banks is not a good idea.

Others point out that the Vatican bank, known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion, has always had a function that makes it unique in banking circles. It was established in the late 1800s (under a different name) as a means to help Catholic groups send funds to needy Catholics in another part of the world.

Religious orders have used the bank to transfer funds to their houses in various countries, and missionaries rely on the bank’s expertise to help them find secure ways to exchange currencies and move money to particular church communities.

I remember once seeing an African bishop in line at the Vatican bank, holding some benefactors’ bank account numbers in one hand and building plans for a new diocesan center in the other. When his turn came up, he dumped it all in front of the cashier and asked him how he could make one thing lead to the other.

The Vatican bank has taken significant steps toward transparency over the last few years. Its director, Paolo Cipriani, in a press briefing last year, disclosed that the bank has about 33,000 accounts with assets of about 6 billion euros ($7.4 billion). He said that contrary to rumors, the bank had no secret accounts and no dealings with off-shore banks.

It’s still too early to tell exactly where Pope Francis will go with the Vatican bank, but it’s clear he wants to underline the function of service and move away from the kind of deals and practices that have landed the bank in trouble in the past.

As he said in this morning’s homily: “Pray for us that we might be poor, that we might be humble, meek, in the service of the people.”

10 comments (Add your own)

1. Mike Andrews wrote:
There is nothing inherently sinful about money. It is naturally an inherent good as a proxy for the fruit of one's labors. There is nothing wrong about a bank or the Church's operating a bank. A pure-minded bank might be an impossible thing but we can try that it be so. That is our Christian calling as with all things.

Wed, May 15, 2013 @ 9:28 PM

2. Mary Ann wrote:
The other day I watched a segment about Bill Gates using some of his BILLIONS to make a difference for the Poor, not just feeding them, but developing technologies to keep the vaccine cool that is shipped there to vaccinate them and sponsoring many other worthwhile projects geared to help the poorest of the Poor.
Does the Vatican really need all those Riches? Aren 't they just a part of tradition.....but not Tradition handed onto us by the Apostles?
My family buried a young member a couple of months ago, and the Church in Trier, Germany refused to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial, because he had stopped paying the Church tax... I was totally shocked when I confirmed this by contacting the local Diocese! Is this what Jesus would have done?

Thu, May 16, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

3. Robert Chacon wrote:
Really? For a Church of over a billion souls, you really think assets of a little over $7 per member is excessive? Besides it really isn't about the dollar amount. Its not money that is the root of all evil - its the love of money. The question is not how much money. Its how is it being used.

As for the buried in Germany, its my understanding that if you don't pay your church "taxes" you are telling the Church you have renounced you faith, rejected Christ and His Church. I may be wrong about this, but if that's the case, I can only side with the Church's decision in the sense that it makes no sense to perform a Christian Burial for someone who has renounced the faith. And if the deceased simply did not feel like contributing monetarily to his Church, I have to ask how is that still being a believer? Perhaps the full amount of his "tax" bill was too onerous given this economic climate, but the statement was that he stopped contributing altogether. Don't get me wrong. I really don't think the Church would ever teach that if one does not contribute monetarily that the sacraments for him or his family should ever be withheld. It may have been the decision of a bad priest to deny the deceased a Christian Burial. Nevertheless, even if I could not afford to pay my full contribution, I would offer something because I would not want to send the message that I have denied my faith. I lost my job and lived on less than $1,000 a month at times, but I still contributed at least a $1. Again, its not the amount, its the statement of faith it makes and I believe in Germany the decision to stop contributions is not just a legal fiscal issue. It has serious theological implications; it is the rejection of faith. Again, if that's the case, and the deceased understood this, it would not only not make sense for the church to celebrate Mass for the deceased, it would be not properly honor the wishes of someone who had free will to reject the very Church wants to reach all of her members, even in death. Unfortunately, I believe the deceased had rejected his faith and was technically an apostate. Please let me know if I'm wrong about this. It is a very interesting situation.

Thu, May 16, 2013 @ 5:02 PM

4. Brother Rolf wrote:
In my opinion the Church should not be holding billions of dollars in art when the money could be saving lives.

Thu, May 16, 2013 @ 8:26 PM

5. Madeline Bruce wrote:
I like Pope Francis. I think he has the right spirit to lead the world spiritually, and that is his job. If he can inspire each one of us to be a better person, a better Christian, he will be doing a lot. As a woman, I would welcome the greater intellectual participation of women in the church. One cannot give one's whole self unless the intellect is allowed to flourish, rather than be suppressed, or atrophied or not appreciated. But intellectual development is definitely one form of power, and this is not easily given up by "the other side", shall we say. It is thrilling to use one's power creatively, one of the greatest joys in life. The Catholic Church is made up mostly of women. So much energy and creativity, and LOVE will be unleashed when women really come into their own within the church. There is probably fear surrounding this. When it happens, some men may pull away from the church, as their privileged, important, and prestigious position will be altered.

Thu, May 16, 2013 @ 8:50 PM

6. Fran Murrell wrote:
A permaculture teacher said that too much money is a type of pollution. I think this is correct. Bill Gates is busily pushing GM crops on Africa. This is despite civil society in that continent protesting that they do not want this but to support small farmers.
The Catholic Church owns vast wealth and yet in Australia is hiding from the consequences of the sexual abuse of children by priests. There is a Royal Commission underway but the Catholic Church is not opening up to what they enabled and making reparations to the people whose lives they ruined.

Whether Gates or the Catholic Church using wealth to avoid equitable and respectful relationships with others is a disgrace.

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 6:25 AM

7. Anna wrote:
Media seems to have missed this, but in the statement to Caritas, the Pope said: , 'the priority is to care right away for their immediate needs and later, as soon as possible, for their development. If that is very expensive...we'd even have to sell the churches to feed the poorest.'

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 9:07 AM

8. Ben in SoCal wrote:
This is truly a pope we have awaited for generations! Thank God for this terrific man. It is good to remind my fellow conservatives that pro-life does not simply stop at the womb, but it is from "natural birth to natural death," and the economy must also meet Pro-Life standards in its treatment of human beings. This Pope challenges conservatives as well as liberals.

The Church utilizes its vast wealth to fund its Christian causes, which are fundamentally and truly humanitarian. Hospitals, education, you name it.

And a substantive AMEN to Robert's comment above.

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 9:42 AM

9. Jurgen wrote:
He seems to be a remarkable man and I like him a lot. But... the Church or Christians should néver be poor! Poverty is a great cúrse on humanity, and has always been. Poverty is utterly degrading and humiliating to the poor. Only voluntary poverty is acceptable, as with the late Mother Teresa and her present day nuns. God's will for us is never poverty but abundance and provision. The Church cannot operate at all without money. It takes money and a lot of it to maintain ministries and parishes. World evangelism and the support of missionaries also take a lót of money - that is just the reality! Poverty sounds religious and pious but is absolutely degrading. It is nót at all holy or humble to be poor but a terrible burden.

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 12:15 PM

10. Marcy W. wrote:
Brother Rolf, if we sell all the Vatican Art to feed the poor that will work for short time. Then when the poor are hungry again they will not only be hungry for food but hungry for beauty that will be unfilled. Art and beauty feed the soul and bring us closer to the ultimate beauty - God.

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 3:54 PM

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