The Vatican

Pope reiterates: the goods of the Holy See have universal destination

The Pope insists that the goods acquired by the institutions of the Holy See belong to the Holy See, and must be used for the attainment of the ends of the universal Church. This principle is not new, but it implies the abandonment of the previous principle of diversification of resources.

Andrea Gagliarducci-February 25, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
praedicate evangelium economia

Tower of the Institute of the Works of Religion (CNS Photo/ Vatican Media)

The goods of the Holy See belong to the Holy See. It sounds like a tautological assertion, but that is what the motu proprio underlines in the final analysis "The native law"("The Original Right"), promulgated by Pope Francis last February 23, which simply reiterates that no Vatican or Vatican-related entity can consider assets as its own, but that all entities must be clear that what they actually have is part of a broader perimeter.

What is the purpose of motu proprio

If the "motu proprio" served only to reiterate an already well-defined concept, why then was it necessary for the Pope to promulgate another document? 

It is a legitimate question, which opens up many answers. 

First of all, Pope Francis had initiated a progressive centralization of the management of the patrimony of the Holy See, according to a project that already belonged to the Cardinal George Pell as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. 

As early as December 2020, Pope Francis had decided that the management of assets generally administered by the Secretariat of State would pass into the hands of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, a sort of "central bank" of the Vatican.

Then, with the apostolic constitution "Praedicate Evangelium"Pope Francis established a principle of centralization, which was then concretized with a "rescriptum" (a note written by the Pope in his own handwriting) of August 2023. This rescript stated that "all the financial resources of the Holy See and of the institutions connected with the Holy See should be transferred to the Institute for the Works of Religion, which should be considered the sole and exclusive entity dedicated to the activity of patrimonial management and depositary of the movable patrimony of the Holy See and of the institutions connected with the Holy See.

A single management, a single linked financial institution (the IOR, it should be remembered, is not a bank). In this way, the Pope also intended to respond to various situations that had arisen over the years and, in particular, to those that would arise during the process for the management of the funds of the Secretariat of State.

The previous situation

Let us give some concrete examples of what has changed. The Secretariat of State had a personal management of its resources, as a governing body, and had always invested using current accounts in international financial institutions, such as Credit Suisse, maintaining its autonomy and its personal fundraising.

The Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, already from its foundation as "Propaganda Fide" 400 years ago, was endowed with full financial autonomy, so that it could freely manage the money allocated to the missions.

The management of the resources of the Governorate was a budget in itself - and indeed there has been no balance sheet of the Governorate since 2015, despite the many balance sheets published in recent years by the Holy See - and it was an administration that not only invested, but could count on great liquidity thanks to the income from the Vatican Museums. The great project was to have a consolidated budget of Curia and Governorate together. 

The reality was that it was precisely this liquidity that made it possible in part to cover the losses of the Holy See, whose "mission budget" - as the former Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, called it - does not generate profits, but mainly expenses, such as salaries.

In the same way that it was the St. Peter's Obligation that bore part of the losses, without considering the donation of a large part of its profits that the IOR made each year, and which, in any case, has decreased drastically over the years along with the decrease in profits. 

Ultimately, management was in many cases separate, and the benefits went only to the entity that invested or allocated resources. Pope Francis centralizes control, so that all investments pass through a central body and are ultimately managed by a sovereign fund, and eliminates any form of management autonomy. At the same time, he reiterates that the assets of the Church cannot be considered personal, and with this he also responds to a certain slowness in the management of the transfer of the management of resources to the IOR. This is a measure to complete a reform that he strongly desired. 

What the "motu proprio" says"

But let us go into the details of the motu proprio. It states that "all goods, movable and immovable, including liquid assets and securities, which have been or will be acquired, in any way, by the Curial Institutions and by the Entities connected with the Holy See, are ecclesiastical public goods and, as such, property, in title or other real right, of the Holy See as a whole and, therefore, belonging, independently of the civil power, to its unitary, non-divisible and sovereign patrimony."

For this reason, it goes on to read, "no Institution or Entity can, therefore, claim private and exclusive ownership or title to the goods of the Holy See, having always acted and must always act in the name, on behalf and for the purposes of the Holy See as a whole, understood as a unitary moral person, representing it only where required and permitted by civil laws".

The "motu proprio" also clarifies that "the goods are entrusted to the Institutions and Entities so that, as public administrators and not as owners, they may make use of them according to the norms in force, respecting and within the limits given by the competencies and institutional purposes of each one, always for the common good of the Church".

The goods of the Holy See "have an ecclesiastical public nature", and are considered goods with a universal destination, and "the entities of the Holy See acquire and use them, not for themselves, like the private owner, but in the name and by the authority of the Roman Pontiff, for the achievement of their institutional purposes, which are also public, and therefore for the common good and at the service of the universal Church".

Once they have been entrusted to them, the motu proprio finally says, "the entities must administer them with the prudence required for the management of the common good and according to the norms and competencies that the Holy See has recently given itself with the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium and, even before that, with the long path of economic and administrative reforms."

The Pope's is also an invitation to prudence in management, contained since the motu proprio "Fidelis Dispensator et Prudens" of February 24, 2014, with which Pope Francis launched the great reform of the Vatican economy.

With this "motu proprio", however, a principle that had governed Vatican finances in the modern era was abandoned: the diversification of investments and resources, delineated in such a way as to allow the autonomy of the Holy See.

The next step could be the creation of a sovereign fund, according to an initial project that was called "Vatican Asset Management", which should now be managed by the Secretariat of State, and the development of the Institute for the Works of Religion towards some of the functions of a modern bank (the IOR is not a bank, it has no branches outside the Vatican).

The authorAndrea Gagliarducci

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