COVID-19 pandemic has Vatican bracing for $60 million deficit in 2021

The pandemic has shrunk donations and closed the high-earning Vatican museums for months.

A small amount of visitors admire the Sistine Chapel as the Vatican Museums reopened, in Rome, Monday, June 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Catholic Church leaders say the financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vatican coffers amounts to more than $60 million, according to a statement released Friday (Feb. 19).

The 2021 Budget of the Holy See was presented by the Secretariat for the Economy, a Vatican agency created by Pope Francis to oversee financial operations. Expenses for the tiny city-state this year are expected to reach almost $376 million, while revenues lag behind at just above $316 million.

The Vatican said that its finances were “heavily impacted by the economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” which shrank donations and closed the high-earning Vatican museums for months.

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The Vatican has not been particularly forthcoming with the state of its finances in the past, but it released its 2021 budget, the statement said, “with the objective of providing more visibility and transparency to the economic transactions of the Holy See.”

The new transparency can be traced to Pope Francis’ larger effort to centralize and clean up the Vatican’s long-troubled finances in the wake of a scandal concerning a $200 million investment in prime London real estate. The deal uncovered a culture of financial mismanagement, if not malfeasance.

The investment, which was described as “opaque” by the second-highest-ranking official at the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, led to ongoing investigations by Vatican prosecutors and the defenestration of former high-ranking Secretariat official Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

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The London deal drew attention also because of reports that the investment was made using a fund called St. Peter’s Pence, which is fed by donations by ordinary Catholics. To increase accountability for the fund, Peter’s Pence was included in the budget for the first time, contributing more than $57 million to the Vatican’s financial picture.

“Excluding Peter’s Pence and the dedicated funds, the deficit of the Holy See would be (about $97 million) in 2021,” the Vatican statement read.

In an effort to reduce losses, the Vatican limited its operating expenses, which went down 14% compared to 2019. While cuts were made, they weren’t at the cost of job security, the Vatican said, “which continues to be a priority for the Holy Father in these difficult times.”

This year the Vatican will focus its budget on the pope’s projects (68%), managing the wealth and property of the Holy See (17%) and managing the various departments and offices that make up the Roman Curia (15%).

“If the level of donations remains as expected, the deficit will be settled with part of the reserves of the Holy See,” the statement read.

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