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NEW YORK, December 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Only about 10 percent of donations made to the Holy See’s “Peter’s Pence” actually goes to the poor while the majority of the annual collection, worth about $55 million USD, goes to plug Vatican budget deficits, a top U.S. financial newspaper is claiming. 

Catholics from all over the world donate to a special papal fund called Peter’s Pence every year. The money is ostensibly used to support charitable enterprises dear to the pontiff’s heart. Today the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleged in a piece titled “Vatican Uses Donations for the Poor to Plug Its Budget Deficit” that most of the over $55 million collected by the fund annually “goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget.” 

According to the WSJ’s unnamed sources, only 10% is “spent on charitable works.” 

“The little-publicized breakdown of how the Holy See spends Peter’s Pence, known only among senior Vatican officials, is raising concern among some Catholic Church leaders that the faithful are being misled about the use of their donations, which could further hurt the credibility of the Vatican’s financial management under Pope Francis,” wrote Francis X. Rocca for the WSJ.  

According to the Vatican’s own webpage, 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.” 

The custom of sending money to the pontiff is believed to have begun with the Anglo-Saxons in the 11th century, when every household in England gave one penny towards the papal fund. The modern Peter’s Pence, international in scope, was established in 1871 by Pope Pius XI. The collection is taken up from church-attending Catholics on the Sunday closest to June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. 

As the WSJ reported, the official Peter’s Pence website gives little indication that much of the funds may actually be going to support the Vatican’s administrative budget.  

“The Peter’s Pence collection is a gesture of solidarity. Through it, every member of the faithful can participate in the Pope’s activity. It is an activity that supports the most needy and ecclesial communities in difficulty who approach the Apostolic See for help,” the site reads.

In its “Works Realized” section, readers can find a gallery of recent donations made by Pope Francis to various communities around the world, which range from 100,000 € ($110,794 US) sent to Albania in the wake of this November’s earthquake to undisclosed sums given to a boys’ school in Syria.      

However, the WSJ notes that under church law, the pope may use Peter’s Pence fund in “any way that serves his ministry, including the support of his administration.” There is also an allusion on the Peter’s Pence webpage to funding ecclesial structures, but in a way that suggests these are predominantly in mission territories:

“The Pope’s charitable works, supported by Peter’s Pence, extend […] to the whole of humanity, at whose service the structures of the Church exist,” the webpage states.  

“For this reason, Peter’s Pence also contributes to the support of the Apostolic See and the activities of the Holy See, as Pope John Paul II recalled: “It is known that the needs of the apostolate and ecclesial communities are growing especially in mission territory. […]”  

But about 75% of the Peter’s Pence fund is used to fill a budgetary hole at the Vatican, the WSJ’s sources said. 

“In 2018, the budget deficit reached roughly €70 million on total spending of about €300 million, reflecting chronic inefficiencies, rising wage costs and hits to investment income,” the financial broadsheet reported. 

The WSJ also quoted its sources in saying that donations to Peter’s Pence have dropped from over 60 million € ($66,842,700 US) in 2017 to over 50 million € ($55 million US), thanks to Catholics’ concern about the clerical sex abuse crisis and lack of financial transparency in the Vatican. 

Meanwhile, the sources say that the fund’s assets are shrinking, too, dropping to about 600 million € ($668 million US) from the 700 million € ($779.5 million US) it comprised early in Francis’ reign. This is apparently because of unfortunate investments. 

Vatican investments and other aspects of its financial endeavors have been much in the news of late, thanks to the thwarted attempts of Cardinal Pell and others to stem suspected money-laundering and other forms of economic corruption, this October’s Vatican police raid on the Secretariat of State, revelations that an Italian businessman made huge profits on a Vatican purchase of a luxury property in London, and the discovery that Peter’s Pence helped finance a biographical film about Elton John that contained depictions of homosexual activity. 

Beverly Stevens, editor of Regina Magazine, once taught Finance at the  University of Maryland's European Military Campus and was a financial writer for 20 years. She told LifeSiteNews that Vatican leadership is firmly to blame for the misuse of Peter’s Pence. 

“All organizations reflect the management policies and ethos of their head,” Stevens said via social media. 

“The Church is no different. Based on what we have seen at the Vatican level in this pontificate (investing in posh London flats & Elton John biopics) and the diocesan level (Bishop Bransfield's million-dollar lifestyle, Archbishop Gregory's Atlanta McMansion, Cardinal Tobin's live-in Italian actor) it looks pretty simple,” she continued.  

“The operating principle is 'talk big about the poor and the marginalized while living like princes' — and don't be too 'rigid' about accounting rules or other pesky details.”

In November, Pope Francis defended the use of Peter’s Pence in investment schemes, saying, “When the money from Peter’s Pence arrives, what do I do? I put it in a drawer? No. This is bad administration. I try to make an investment and when I need to give, when there is a need, throughout the year, the money is taken and that capital does not devalue, it stays the same or it increases a bit.”