The fund from the faithful, which finances many Vatican charity efforts, is running at a large deficit.
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Donations from the faithful to Peter’s Pence decreased by as much as 15% in 2021. The fund, which the Vatican relies on to support many of its charitable efforts, has continued on a downward trend that began in 2015.
Fr. Juan A. Guerrero, S.J., prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, discussed the situation in a January 28 interview with Vatican News. The Jesuit revealed a serious decrease in donations from about $49 million in 2020 to approximately $44 million in 2021. He was quick to note that this decrease of about 15% comes in addition to the 18% decrease in 2020 and the troubling 23% drop between 2015 and 2019.
Due in part to declining donations, Fr. Guerrero explained that the Vatican is running at a deficit. In 2021, the Vatican’s expenditures ran over its earnings by about $47 million. The red in the finance books may be slowly fading to black, however, as he suggested that 2022’s deficit should be about $10 million less. Fr. Guerrero said:
“It is understandable that the CpE has had difficulty in approving a budget with such a deficit for another year and has asked us to make plans to further reduce expenditures and increase revenues. According to our forecasts, we expect a somewhat lower deficit than budgeted in 2021.”
Factors at work
One of the primary factors Fr. Guerrero cited to explain the downward trend of Peter’s Pence donations was the world pandemic. With fewer faithful in the pews, it’s harder to fill the collection plates. Another factor at work is the expansion of the Vatican’s “mission budget,” which sends funds to Church-run facilities, like mission hospitals and sanctuaries. This year it added another 30 such entities, bringing the total to 90.
Another aspect that Fr. Guerrero is closely monitoring is the London property at the heart of the recent financial scandal. The property is now being sold off and the proceeds will help cover the deficit.
Fr. Guerrero made it clear that this is not a problem that can be solved by cutting costs, but by finding new means of donations and revenue. He suggested that the first step in this direction would be to more transparent with the faithful on the topic of the Vatican’s budget. Additionally, the Vatican should be more forthright with the inflow and outflow of Peter’s Pence.
Fr. Guerrero said of possible solutions:
“We have to make the local churches more aware of the needs of the Holy See; the Curia is at their service and must be largely maintained by them. There is a great difference in the commitment of the various Churches to the support of the Roman Curia. And [we also need] to enlist the help of the faithful, who want to support the pope in his mission of unity in charity, which is after all what the Roman Curia does.”
Peter’s Pence is a fund made up of donations from the faithful to the pope and his charities. It is a practice that developed in medieval England and spread throughout Europe. The modern iteration was formalized by Pope Pius IX in 1871 to provide financial support to the Holy See. Today, it remains as a primary source of funds for the pope’s philanthropic endeavors.
“Peter’s Pence is the name given to the financial support offered by the faithful to the Holy Father as a sign of their sharing in the concern of the Successor of Peter for the many different needs of the Universal Church and for the relief of those most in need.”