Questions about Vatican finances, especially those involving a real estate deal in London, are serious, but they are also a sign that reforms begun by Pope Benedict XVI are working, Pope Francis said.
“This is the first time the lids have been taken off the pots by someone inside and not outside” the Vatican, the pope told reporters on his return flight to Rome on 26th November.
Pope Francis spent about an hour with reporters at the end of his weeklong trip to Thailand and Japan. He spoke in general about the two countries and answered eight questions, including two about the recent Vatican finance scandal involving a large loan to develop a London property.
The pope also spoke about nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, nonviolence and the just-war theory and about political unrest in Hong Kong, Chile and several other Latin American countries.
Pope Francis said no-one should be bothered by the fact that the Vatican invests the money it collects from Catholics around the world. “The sum of Peter’s Pence arrives and what do I do? Put it in a drawer? No, that’s bad administration. I try to make an investment.”
Peter’s Pence is a papal fund used for charity, but also to support the running of the Roman Curia and Vatican embassies around the world. The collection for the fund occurs each year around 29th June, the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.
When handling Vatican funds, the pope said it is best to follow what some people describe as a “widow’s investment,” which is putting money into a variety of investments, so that if one fails, the entire amount is not lost. And, of course, he said, all of the investments must be moral.
“If you make an investment with Peter’s Pence in a weapons factory, the offering is no longer an offering,” he said.
“And, yes, you can buy a building and rent it and then sell it,” but only when the investment is sound and one is certain that the people who will benefit from it are those Peter’s Pence is intended to help, the pope said.
The London deal, though, seems to have involved “things that don’t seem ‘clean,’ but the report did not come from outside.” Instead, under finance reform procedures begun by Pope Benedict XVI and continuing under Pope Francis, “it was the internal auditor general, who said, ‘Look, here is something that doesn’t add up.’ He came to me.”
When the auditor asked the pope what he should do, the pope said that he told him to go to the Vatican prosecutor with the information. “For that, I am content, because it shows the Vatican administration has the resources” to report and investigate suspicious activity.
The Vatican prosecutor, the pope continued, did a preliminary study and thought some form of “corruption” might be involved, so he asked permission to search several Vatican offices, including in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
“I signed the authorisations myself,” Pope Francis told reporters.
One thing he has not signed or even begun to work on, he said, is a proposed encyclical letter on nonviolence.
Asked about the idea of such a letter, Pope Francis said, “The plan exists, but the next pope will do it.”
The encyclical is one of many “projects in the drawer” that are “maturing there,” waiting until the time is right, he said.
Picture: Pope Francis answers questions from reporters aboard his flight from Tokyo to Rome on 26th November 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).