Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, spoke to Andrea Tornielli, on March 12, 2021, about what is a fairly new communication exercise for the Vatican: it is about playing the transparency card on the budget of the smallest state in the world.
The Jesuit, who received from Pope Francis the mission to hold the purse strings of the Holy See, had his 2021 budget validated on February 16, after a hearing before the Council for the Economy.
We learn that the forecast deficit amounts to nearly 50 million euros, but Fr. Guerrero issued a qualification, saying that the gap “would have been increased to eighty, without the income from St. Peter’s Pence.”
The expected revenues are much lower than in 2019: “at that time, explains the Jesuit, the turnover was 307 million euros, and for this year, we expect 30% less, or 213 millions. On the other hand, although the budgeted expenses are the lowest in the recent history of the Holy See, it is not possible to reduce them to the same extent as the revenues, while keeping the mission of the Holy See intact.”
The reduction in expenditure should reach 8%: an encouraging figure, tempers Fr. Guerrero, because “if we exclude staff costs, which we have not reduced because the protection of employment and wages was a priority, the reduction would be 15%.”
Questioned by the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication on the rigidity of expenditures, the Jesuit took the opportunity to object to the due diligence management of the sovereign pontiff: “the Pope insists on the fact that saving money does not necessarily mean laying off employees, he is very sensitive to the situation of families,” he said.
Whoever holds the purse strings at the Vatican must be aware that the trust of the faithful, whose donations are essential to cover part of the deficit, must be the object of special care. “It is very important to continue to provide clear and transparent information, which gives the faithful peace of mind about the use of their donations,” he insists.
To those who would reproach him that it is easy to replenish the Vatican coffers with donations, the Jesuit warns: “I think it is not appropriate to say that Peter’s Pence covers the Curia’s deficit. That is not correct. The Curia will always have a deficit. The offering serves to cover the expenses of the mission of the Holy Father…which he exercises through the various departments.”
And Fr. Guerrero points out that most dicasteries—the equivalent of a government ministry—do not generate revenue. “Practically all the activity and the mission of the Holy See are sources of expenditure: nunciatures, dicasteries, aid to churches in need, etc.”
Has the financial scandal page definitively turned? The prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy wants to believe it, since the reform is progressing rapidly: “Most of the funds (from the Secretariat of State) have already been transferred. The Auditor General is in the process of certifying the balances of the various accounts,” explains the Argentinian pontiff’s confidant.
Optimizing expenses, and encouraging the generosity of the faithful, this is the financial credo that Fr. Guerrero sums up in a few sentences: “to reduce management costs and increase mission costs. On the other hand, the faithful deserve transparency. It is often said that in the management of her resources, the Church must adapt to international criteria … We must aspire to become an international benchmark.”
The Secretariat for the Economy has just published its budget for the 2021 year. The Holy See intends to play the card of transparency and management with due diligence, after a 2020 year punctuated by financial scandals involving several senior Vatican officials.