VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) –– Pope Francis has issued a motu proprio regulating the Holy See’s ownership of assets, stipulating that any assets acquired by the Roman Curia or connected institutions are “ecclesiastical public property” and thus owned directly by the Holy See.
Signed February 20 and released February 23, the new motu proprio Il diritto nativo reiterates the Holy See’s power and principles regarding ownership of assets. It refers to Canons 1254 and 1255 of the Church’s Canon Law and also builds upon Francis’ March 2022 reforms of the Roman Curia as contained in Praedicate Evangelium.
Drawing from these two Canons, Pope Francis noted how the Holy See has a “native right, independent of civil power … to acquire temporal goods.”
Owing to the Holy See’s assets having a “universal destination,” they thus have an “ecclesiastical public nature,” noted the Pontiff. As such, “entities of the Holy See” purchase and use any assets not for themselves but “in the name and authority of the Roman Pontiff, for the pursuit of their institutional purposes, which are likewise public, and thus for the common good and at the service of the Universal Church.”
With this preamble, Francis wrote that all assets which have or will be bought by the Curial Institutions or even any “entities” connected with the Holy See fall under the Holy See’s ownership and control:
All goods, movable and immovable, including cash and securities, which have been or will be acquired, in whatever manner, by the Curial Institutions and Entities Connected with the Holy See, are ecclesiastical public goods and as such owned, in title or other real right, by the Holy See as a whole and belonging therefore, independently of the civil power, to its unitary, non-fractionable and sovereign patrimony.
With this in mind, Francis noted that no “institution or entity” could lay claim to “private and exclusive ownership or titling” of any of the Holy See’s assets, since the institution must “always” act “in the name, on behalf of and for the purposes of the Holy See as a whole, understood as a unitary moral person, only representing it where required and permitted in the civil orders.”
He reiterated that all institutions and entities with such goods are simply the “public administrators and not owners.” In a capacity as “public administrators,” the “institutions and entities” must therefore also act “always for the common good of the Church.”
New motu proprio builds on December text
The Pontiff’s new motu proprio is the latest in a number of documents he has released relating to the Vatican’s finances and management of assets.
The most recent of these prior to today’s document was a December 6 motu proprio that was accompanied by a new law issued by the Governorate of the Vatican City State, both of which became effective on December 8.
The two texts enacted more control over the financial governance of certain entities within the Holy See but excluded the “Institutions” of the Roman Curia. Under the December law Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy retained wide-reaching financial oversight of all such entities, and also consult with the relevant Curial office on matters relating to the entity’s financial budget approval.
Pope Francis wrote in December that the motu proprio does not apply to “the Curial Institutions and Offices of the Roman Curia, the Institutions connected with the Holy See and the Governorate of Vatican City State.” The accompanying law furthers added that Vatican City State “entities that professionally perform activities of a financial nature” are also exempt.
Today’s document, however, seems to now reiterate the Holy See’s ownership of assets relating to the Curia.
It also notes that any “entities” that refer to the Holy See and are registered in the list from Statute of the Council for the Economy, having their headquarters within the Vatican City, remained unchanged. They had already been dealt with in the December 6 motu proprio.
Why simply reaffirm the norm?
As noted by Vatican News, today’s motu proprio does not institute a new law or establish fresh customs but rather “reaffirms a fundamental principle regarding the public nature of goods and the role of curial institutions and related entities.”
The question, therefore, is why such a move has been made, to which the answer is not immediately clear.
However, one particular instance of recently reported news has a direct relation to today’s motu proprio – the case of the Franciscan monastery of Santa Chiara on Italy’s Amalfi coast.
As reported by Crisis Magazine, the five resident nuns were told by the order to close down. Three of the nuns refused to do so, fearing that the historic monastery – assessed to be worth €50-60 million and of great prominence for the order – would become a hotel.
To avoid this, the three remaining nuns employed what they believed to be a move that would safeguard the property and donated it directly to the Pope. Francis accepted this, reportedly swiftly, and ordered the Secretariat of State to handle the matter. Days later, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Religious Life unexpectedly demanded the nuns leave.
The nuns refused to go in the Dicastery’s timeline, reported Il Mattino, since that would mean they could not transfer the property to the Pope as agreed. They thus petitioned for some months to complete the transfer, to which the Secretariat of State agreed.
But then Francis reportedly countersigned the order demanding their immediate expulsion. They were then removed by the police and Francis signed a decree removing them from their vows, effectively reducing them to the lay state.
While the plight of the nuns has not become widely known in the English-speaking world, it is spreading through the Italian media. With today’s motu proprio, Pope Francis could be issuing a cold, legal defense of the Vatican’s actions: once the property was signed over to the Holy See, the Holy See was free to use it as it deemed befitted the “common good and at the service of the Universal Church.”
The motive for acting thus is unknown. However, a property worth some €50 million would appear enticing to a Vatican that is beset with financial scandals and tens of millions in debt.
The peculiar world of Vatican finances currently thus remains just as murky as it ever was.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s former auditor general – Libero Milone – is suing the Holy See, arguing that he and his deputy were unlawfully fired after Cardinal Angelo Becciu (then No. 2 in the Secretariat of State) unjustly accused them of spying and embezzlement in June 2017, accusations that, they argue, stemmed from their audit which uncovered widespread corruption within the hierarchy of the Holy See.
That lawsuit is reportedly being stalled by the Vatican, with no reason given.
Becciu was himself indicted for corruption in July 2021 by the Vatican Tribunal, along with nine others. He was personally charged with “embezzlement and abuse of office, also in collaboration, as well as subornation,” and is standing trial alongside nine other people connected to the financial scandal surrounding a Vatican property investment in London which he authorized.