The Vatican

What has the St. Peter's Obligation money been spent on?

Every year, on June 29, the offerings of the faithful are collected in parishes and donated to the Pope's mission. This is the Obolo di San Pietro (Offering of St. Peter), a very ancient institution of support from the faithful for the work of the Church.

Andrea Gagliarducci-June 17, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

The St. Peter's Obligation has become a real support for the Holy See since the 19th century, when the Pope lost the Papal States and Catholics around the world organized to finance his mission. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of the Oblates' funds are dedicated to the activities of the Holy See: covering the budget of the Curia, the expenses of the nunciatures and other institutional expenses. Only a small part of the St. Peter's obolus goes to charitable works, with specific projects.

The figures were published on June 16, in the annual statement that started to be made last year, as the last figures were from 2015. To understand what the Óbolo is and how it is used, let's start with the numbers and go into the history.

The numbers

In 2021, 55.5 million went to support activities promoted by the Holy See in the fulfillment of the Holy Father's apostolic mission. Another 9.8 million went to projects of direct assistance to the needy.

The total of 65.3 million euros did not come out of the collection, since last year the collection amounted to 46.9 million. The Obolo is, in short, in the red. However, the figures say that it has done better than expected.

Father Antonio Guerrero Alves, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, speaking of the "mission budget" of the Roman Curia for 2021, had expressed precisely his concern about the collection of the Obligation.

"Broadly speaking - emphasized the prefect of the Ministry of Economy-, I can say that in 2021 there was again a drop compared to the previous year, which I would dare to quantify at no less than 15%. If in 2020 the total Óbolo collection was 44 million euros, in 2021 I do not think it will be 37 million. The decline in 2021 is on top of the 23% decline between 2015 and 2019 and the 18% decline in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.

How was the hole covered?

The Holy See donated more than 35 million euros, with which some needs were covered. In this way, the Oblates directly provided funds to 157 different projects in 67 different countries. In total, 9.8 million, which should be included in the 35 million mentioned. Of these projects, 41.8% were financed in Africa, 23.5% in the Americas, 25.5% in Asia, 8.2% in Europe and 1% in Oceania.

Among the projects funded are the construction of a building for young people in Saint Bertin (Haiti); a contribution to the construction of a school in Zimbabwe; a project in the Philippines to help end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children; dormitories in South Sudan and Indonesia; the reconstruction of a monastery in Ecuador; and the construction of a parish in India.

Added to this is support for the Pope's mission, i.e., spending to maintain the dicasteries. The 55 million given by the Obligation helped finance the 237.7 million in expenses of the dicasteries last year.

The countries that contribute most to the Óbolo are Germany, the United States, Italy, France, Spain, the Philippines, Latin America and Poland.

How the Óbolo works

The Óbolo has a website where you can find all the information about the projects it supports. However, it should not be forgotten that the main objective is to help the Holy See in its mission. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is used for institutional purposes.

The issue of the Obolo has come to the forefront in the Vatican process on the management of the funds of the Secretariat of State. It was alleged that the Secretariat of State had invested money from the Obligation by taking it away from the poor.

The reality, as the trial revealed, is very different. Until the 1990s, it was the Secretariat of State that managed the flow of donations from the St. Peter's Obligation. To do so, the Secretariat of State had opened a Onbolo AccountThe Vatican bank alone, in the mid-1990s, had some 80 accounts open for specific needs.

It was then decided to rationalize expenses and control, closing the accounts and transferring the management of the Óbolo to the Secretariat of State. However, the Secretariat of State kept the "Óbolo" account. However, this account had only the name of the Óbolo, while other resources of the Secretariat of State had been directed to it. That is where the money for the Secretary of State's investments had been taken from. If it had used the Óbolo, it would have done so in any case in accordance with its mission. And in fact, he has not touched the patrimony of the St. Peter's Obligation.

The history of the St. Peter's obolus

The practice of the obolus has very ancient origins, since from the beginning Christians have supported the works of the Apostles.

At the end of the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxons, after their conversion, felt so close to the Bishop of Rome that they decided to send an annual contribution to the Holy Father. The initiative took the name of Denarius Sancti Petri (the Alms to St. Peter), and soon spread to European countries. Pope Pius IX, with the Encyclical Saepe venerabilis of August 5, 1871, institutionalized the practice following a movement of the faithful in its favor.

In fact, it seems that Charles Forbes René, Count of Montalembert, annoyed by Pius IX's flight to Gaeta in November 1848 in Garibaldi's time, created a committee to come to the aid of the fugitive Pope, and to support the Vatican State which, as Vatican Secretary of State Giacomo Antonelli said, was shrinking into "a child's body with increasingly asthmatic breath."

In 1870, Rome, no longer protected by the French who were participating in the Franco-Prussian war, was taken and annexed by the Kingdom of Italy. Pius IX took refuge in the Vatican, refused the Italian State's offer of an annual indemnity, because the law was unilateral, giving the territory in use and not in ownership.

Isolated, with no more territory, the Holy See depended more and more on the offerings of the faithful. And these offerings continued even after a territorial state was reconstituted following the Lateran Pacts in 1929.

The Obolus with the last Popes

The offerings depend as much on the economic situation in the different regions as on the Pope's sympathy. In the 1980s, a series of scandals - among them that of the Institute for the Works of Religion - nearly caused the collapse of the obolus, which plummeted to $17 million in 1985.

The deficit, however, was also caused by the numerous expenses, in particular those of the nunciatures, so John Paul II carried out a drastic containment of expenses. He also began greater transparency by making budgets public and established the Council of 15 Cardinals for the organizational and economic problems of the Holy See.

With Benedict XVI and Francis, the Vatican's finances aspire to greater transparency. Starting in 2016, the Holy See decides to make the Obolus more accessible and establishes a dialogue with the faithful around the world on the need and the effects of charity towards those most in need. This is why the website is created to provide more information.

The authorAndrea Gagliarducci

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