May 21, 2020
Plans for a “Vatican Asset Management” outfit were laid out almost as soon as Pope Francis created the new Secretariat for the Economy. The VAM was supposed to be a centralized office that managed all Vatican investments. The proposed management outfit would have responded to two needs: that of generating revenues to support the expenses of the Holy See / Vatican City State; and, that of keeping investments under better control (because each dicastery had some funds that it managed independently).
The proposal met with a decidedly mixed reaction in the Vatican, as well as – it is fair to say – a good bit of pushback. The President of the Council of Superintendence of the Institute for Religious Works, Jean Baptiste de Franssu, claimed in 2015 that the project would not touch the IOR, for example, but only the Vatican dicasteries. In any case, the proposal was put aside.
De Franssu’s cool early reaction also makes it even more interesting to note that the Institute for Religious Works has recently expressed support for the idea that there is need to centralize investments.
Centralization of investments was at the center of the institutional crisis that arose with the IOR’s complaint regarding the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury property in London. The IOR did not want to give the Secretariat of State a loan to support the acquisition, and complained about the operations. However, observers have also noted in the Institute’s resistance the desire directly to manage the money involved.
The ongoing debate tells a lot about the Vatican balances and current positions. The idea is still being explored. It was also discussed in the last meeting of Pope Francis with the heads of Vatican ministers on May 4, 2020.
During that meeting, Vatican officials saw three economic outlooks for the Vatican. More than a “best, middle, worst” trio, the three outlooks were better characterized as “devastating, catastrophic, apocalyptic”. The Holy See’s balance sheet is in the red, and the financial situation worsened with the coronavirus crisis.
According to the first scenario, income would drop by 30 to 50 percent, while the debt would go up by 28 percent.