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Contributions to Catholic Church plunge amid sex abuse crisis as Vatican 'faces default' over financial failings

Nick Squires
Bishops attend a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the opening of a synod, a meeting of bishops, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Oct. 3, 2018. - AP

Worldwide donations to the Catholic Church have plunged in the wake of sex abuse scandals that have eroded faith in the Vatican, a new book claims.

The Church’s finances are in such a dire state – a result of a toxic mix of incompetence, internal wrangling and corruption – that the Vatican risks a default by 2023, according to the expose.

The amount of money donated by ordinary Catholics to the Church, known as Peter’s Pence, has plummeted from €101 million in 2006 to €70 million in 2016 and may now be less than €60 million.

Only a fifth of the total goes to helping the poor and needy, with the rest held in bank accounts or used to plug gaps in the finances of the Curia, the Vatican’s governing body.

The revelations are based on scrutiny of 3,000 confidential documents obtained by an Italian investigative journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi.

In his book, Universal Judgment, which was published on Monday, he portrays the Vatican as a viper’s nest of jealous cardinals, warring departments and avaricious officials who are adept at parallel book-keeping.

“If the pontificate of Frances fails, it won’t be because of the attacks of conservative Catholics or the crisis in vocations or because of the declining number of faithful,” Mr Nuzzi writes. “It will be because of the financial collapse that is coming ever closer.”

The Vatican deficit is “like a voracious and insatiable parasite, attacking wealth that was accumulated over the centuries from the pious offerings of the faithful.”

The precipitous decline in contributions has coincided with a crisis of faith for millions of Catholics, who have been appalled at the multiple sex scandals involving priests and cardinals.

Thousands of prelates have been accused of raping or molesting children and the Vatican’s former finance chief, Australian cardinal George Pell, is in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing teenage boys in the state of Victoria.

A Gallup survey early this year found that the number of Catholics in the US who had a “high” or “very high” opinion of the clergy had dropped from 49% in 2017 to 31% at the end of 2018.

The plunge in confidence was ascribed to the sex abuse crises which have affected the Church in the US, Ireland, Chile, Australia and other countries.

Pope Francis himself admitted that the Church’s “credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them.”

The Vatican has set up an emergency task force to address its financial crisis as its losses rose from €32 million in 2017 to nearly €44 million last year.

Pope Francis' push for more transparency has been sabotaged by Vatican insiders, according to the book Credit: AP

In a document obtained by Mr Nuzzi, a Vatican official wrote: “The deficit is recurring and structural and has reached worrying levels. We risk a default if no urgent steps are taken.”

Although the Vatican has a vast property portfolio, its management of the assets is “catastrophic,” said Mr Nuzzi, with around 800 properties left empty and hundreds of others leased out on peppercorn rents or for no money at all.

The entity that runs the property portfolio, known by its acronym Apsa, made a loss of more than €22 million last year.

It was the first time the department had ever been in the red, according to the author.

Vatican insiders have continuously attempted to impede or sabotage Pope Francis’ efforts to introduce more transparency and accountability, Mr Nuzzi claims.

He described his book as “an account of the Pope’s fight to stop the slide towards the financial collapse of the Vatican.”