National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 1, 2003

Despite scandal, U.S. Catholic giving rises in 2002


For all those who believed it would be a massive drop in financial contributions from the United States that really focused the Vatican’s attention on the American sex abuse crisis, the annual financial statement from the Holy See for 2002 holds some major surprises.

Bottom line: Not only did giving from the United States not fall in 2002, which represented the peak period of the sex abuse crisis, it actually rose. Americans are once again in first place among nations that contribute the most to the annual operating expenses of the Vatican, finishing ahead of Germany and Italy.

Moreover, the Vatican registered an astonishing increase in worldwide contributions, with the total rocketing from $41 million in 2001 to $96.7 million in 2002. (The increase is slightly less dramatic than it sounds due to an 18 percent decline in the value of the dollar over the past year, but it’s still impressive.)

Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, the president of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs for the Holy See, presented the 2002 report to the press July 10. He declined to give a specific figure for how much the U.S. contributions went up in 2002, but confirmed that there was an increase.

Overall, the Vatican registered a deficit in 2002 of $15.2 million, the second straight year it finished in the red. The result was attributed to losses in the financial sector and rising costs for personnel and diplomatic missions. The report listed revenues of $245 million and costs of $260 million.

But the striking jump in contributions from dioceses, religious orders, foundations, associations, private organizations and individuals suggests that the much-feared (or, depending on one’s point of view, much-anticipated) collapse in financial support related to the American scandals simply did not materialize.

Contributions last year to Peter’s Pence, which are destined for charities supported by the pope, were also up slightly. The report did not give a breakdown by country, but said the total received for Peter’s Pence was about $53 million, up nearly 2 percent from 2001.

The Vatican went through 23 money-losing years until 1993. The situation turned around after bishops from around the world agreed to directly assist the Vatican. But it found itself in the red again in 2001, blaming the $3 million deficit on the worldwide financial slump aggravated by the Sept. 11 attacks.

The report said the Vatican had heavy personnel costs -- it employs 2,659 people in Rome -- while it faced new costs for building more diplomatic missions. The Holy See maintains relations with more than 120 nations.

In a separate accounting, the report said the Vatican city-state was in deficit, by some $18 million, attributing it to falling revenues and the costs of running Vatican Radio.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 2003

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