Very few people know for sure how much the Vatican is worth, although estimates put the figure at between $10 billion and $15 billion. That’s a lot of money that the Catholic Church can invest to make even more, but Pope Francis doesn’t want to see any of the money going to investments in gambling or pornography.
Gambling, pornography and prostitution, the arms industry, abortion centers and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture contraceptive methods or work with embryonic stem cells are now off limits. These sectors comprise a group that the Vatican bans from investments, per a new mandate from Pope Francis. Instead, the Church’s money handlers should opt for low-risk operations where ethical, social and environmental criteria prevail.
With a document published on Tuesday and that will enter into force on September 1, the Secretariat for the Economy, led by Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, continues to put order in the Vatican accounts. It unifies the investments of the different curial institutions, which must go through the account opened for these purposes by the Administration of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA, for its Italian acronym) at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR, the Vatican bank).
Vatican Cuts Off Gambling
This decision of the Catholic Church follows a discussion leaders of the faith held in the Council for the Economy. It included specialists in the sector, and all of the various components of the Church already received notification of the new rules. This includes its dicastery and organizations of the Roman Curia, as well as the rest of the 100 entities linked in one way or another to the Holy See.
The new mandate states that money should serve to “contribute to a more just and sustainable world.” Therefore, all investment considerations must preserve “the real value of the net worth of the Holy See,” while generating a sufficient return that contributes in a sustainable way to finance its activities.
Investments must also “be aligned” with the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a result, they automatically exclude investments that “contradict fundamental principles, such as the sanctity of life or the dignity of the human being or the common good.”
The Church will introduce a one-year moratorium to meet the required criteria. However, before the end of October, all affected bodies must communicate to the APSA the investments they own and who manages them, as well as contracts, banking information or other documents related to them.
Stopping Questionable Investments
In addition to the new mandate, the Vatican has launched an Investment Committee, an entity the Church’s new apostolic constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium,” approved. It has been active since June and is responsible for carrying out the necessary consultations to develop the investment strategy.
In addition, it assesses whether the decisions are appropriate, with particular attention to the conformity of the investments with the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Logically, it also explores the financial risk/reward factors of all investments.
Many people may consider it odd that the Church would need to stipulate that it prohibits investments in pornography and gambling. Still, there may be an underlying reason why it is coming up now.
Two years ago, the Church revealed that then-Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu invested Vatican money in rental car company Hertz in 2017. However, in October 2020, the company filed for bankruptcy.
A month earlier, the Church stripped Becciu of his rights as a cardinal over allegations of misappropriation of funds in unrelated incidents. He is still on trial at the Vatican for financial crimes following a series of investments he and others made through the purchase of real estate.
As an independent city-state, the Vatican remains relatively reclusive. For example, it doesn’t share its financial data with the world. However, governments have been exerting pressure on it to open its books.
The Vatican claims it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in bad investments. It has also had to deal with numerous scandals of gambling priests and nuns over the years. However, it is apparently now trying to turn over a new leaf.
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