Late last month, the Vatican announced the coronavirus pandemic had forced Pope Francis to postpone an annual fund raising campaign among Catholics worldwide to help him carry out his ministry.
The delay of “Peter’s Pence” by more than three months to the first weekend in October has come at a particularly bad time, as other revenues, notably from the Vatican Museums, slow to a trickle.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the Vatican’s finances, forcing it to dip into reserve funds and implement some of the toughest cost control measures ever in the tiny city-state.
Against this bleak backdrop, top Vatican administrators held an emergency meeting in late March. They ordered a freeze on promotions and hirings and a ban on overtime, travel and large events.
The Peter’s Pence fund, which brings in an estimated $50-65 million yearly, aims to help the pope’s activities as head of the 1.3 billion-member Church and support charitable projects in the world’s neediest areas.
The pandemic has also drastically slowed the flow of funds from the Vatican Museums, which received some 7 million visitors last year and are the city’s most reliable cash cow.
The museums, which generate an estimated $100 million yearly, have been closed since March 8 and are not expected to open until late May at the earliest, resulting in up to three months of lost revenue.
Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, the new head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, told the official Vatican News website that it is estimated that Holy See income would fall between 25 and 45 percent because of the coronavirus, depending on how well cost-cutting measures worked.
Another unknown is that there is no indication when the pope can resume activities which attract tens of thousands of people at a time, such as general audiences and Masses on religious feast days.
Adding to the income shortfall, the two Vatican departments that manage real estate holdings in Italy offered reduced rents for commercial tenants whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic, such as some 600 stores and offices in Rome.
Bishops conferences in rich countries such as the United States and Germany make large contributions to the running of the Vatican, but the pandemic has also hit their finances.
The headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church has two budgets.
One is that of Holy See, the government of the Catholic Church which is recognised as a sovereign entity in international law. It includes the central administration and embassies that keep up diplomatic relations with more than 180 countries.
Its income is from real estate holdings, investments and contributions such as Peter’s Pence. It has run a deficit for many years.
The other budget is for Vatican City, a 108-acre city-state surrounded by Rome. It includes the vital income from the Vatican Museums and it traditionally runs a surplus.
The surplus from the Vatican City budget, as well as contributions from the faithful and profits from the Vatican bank, have been used to plug the Holy See’s deficits for years.
The last year for which the Vatican has published full budget figures was 2015, when the Holy See had a deficit of $13.1 million.
Since then, Guerrero said, the Holy See has had yearly income of about $293 million and expenses of about $347 million euros, resulting in a yearly deficit of about $54 million.