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Pope Benedict XVI receives roughly $200 million annually for his personal use, money which is not counted as income to the government of the worldwide Catholic Church (the Holy See) nor the government of the Vatican City State, an independent country in which St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican offices, residences, library and museums are located. It is his alone.
The pope’s income comes from three sources.
American Catholics are asked to contribute to the pope’s “works of charity” by a special collection taken during Mass once a year. This money is sent directly to Benedict as part of the worldwide donation called Peter’s Pence. The practice began in 1871 when the then-pontiff lost his last sovereign territory (before the creation of the Vatican City State in 1929), the Papal States, along with the income from this wide swath of land across the center of the Italian peninsula.
In 2006, the Peter’s Pence total was $101.9 million, 2007 $79.8 million, 2008 $75.8 million and 2009 $82.5 million. The last year (2006) in which the sum was broken down by country and made public, people in the U.S. were the largest donors providing 28 percent of the total. (The Vatican has not yet released financial information for 2010.)
Additional gifts are rarely disclosed but here a few I could find:
An organization of wealthy American Catholics called The Papal Foundation (see below), presents an unspecified annual gift from their group of million-dollar donors to the pope “to support and help him with his requested programs and missions throughout the world.”
When Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in April 2010, the American bishops gave him a check for $870,000 “to support his charitable works” without explanation of where the money came from.
“The expression in Rome is opera de carita: ‘We’re making an offering for your works of charity.’ In fact, you don’t know where the money is going,” stated a priest who “steered” cash payoffs from the Legionaries of Christ to Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s secretary and the man closest to the pontiff. In his interview with author, Jason Berry, the priest continued, “It’s an elegant way of giving a bribe.”
There isn’t much information about what Benedict does with his fortune. For an organization with an official and semi-official global media empire second to none and which never hesitates to toot its own horn, reports from Catholic news sources of papal charity are few and far between.
Sometime in 2010, the pope gave $50,000 of his own money to Caritas Haiti, a member organization of Caritas Internationalis (see below) and $250,000 for rebuilding the school of Saint François de Sales in Port-au-Prince.
The Almoner’s Office, “tucked into a courtyard on the north end of Vatican City,” distributes more than $2 million each year as charity to pay such things as medical or utility bills and rent to applicants screened and approved by their local pastor. The archbishop in charge advised an American reporter that “Pope Benedict told him to ‘never let our charity be lacking’ and to come to him personally if he needed additional funds.”
It was reported that this past Christmas, Benedict hosted a Christmas dinner in Rome for 250 homeless persons. We’ll assume that “hosted” meant he picked up the tab in addition to showing up.
None of the official Vatican charities, all managed by the dicastery (department) known as The Pontifical Council COR UNUM for Human and Christian Development, state they receive money from the pope, although the dicastery’s function is “To assist the pope and be his instrument for carrying out special initiatives in the field of humanitarian actions.”
The Vatican website lists four separate funds under the auspices of COR UNUM which donated $9.35 million in 2009 for such things as disaster relief, schools in Africa and building Catholic facilities. All are financed by donations from the “faithful” and the Italian Bishops Conference.
Probably the best-known Catholic charity is Caritas Internationalis, a highly-regarded “confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations working to build a better world, especially for the poor and oppressed, in over 200 countries and territories.”
Like its US member, Catholic Charities USA, Caritas Internationalis-affilitated agencies are funded by governments, non-governmental secular organizations and private foundations, as well as individual donations.
Caritas was a mostly autonomous organization nominally under the authority of COR UNUM but the Vatican is planning to take greater control beginning with its finance and personnel. In order to further the agency’s now-restated first goal of “promoting the Church’s social teaching” (i.e. abortion, population control, the family and “gender politics”) and secondly “helping those in need,” supervision of the charity is being shifted to the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Although Catholic hierarchs contribute little if any of their own funds, a Vatican official stated, “Local Caritas organizations depend on local dioceses and the true stakeholders of Caritas are the bishops and the pope.” As I previously wrote, US bishops spending the money donated by American Catholics to help the needy for reconstructing churches and seminaries in Haiti and Cuba may be what this official has in mind.
In the name of the pope, the U.S.-based Papal Foundation “has given close to $70 million in grants for the building of churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals and other projects for the care of the poor around the world.” The Foundation’s website shows that of 65 grants, only 5 were for the “care of the poor.” On May 5, 2011, Benedict praised members of the Foundation “for your involvement in projects aimed at integral human development, your encouragement of the apostolic activities of dioceses and religious congregations throughout the world, your concern for the education of the Church’s future leaders and your support for the activities of the Holy See.” (emphasis added)
Forbes Magazine – which bills itself as the leading publication for the world’s business leaders – listed Pope Benedict XVI as its fifth most powerful person in the world (ahead of the British and German prime ministers) in 2010. With all the official relief agencies of his bishops in the worldwide Catholic Church now more firmly under his control, can the pope improve his standing?