Monday, October 19, 2009

Would Selling the Vatican End World Hunger?

Vox Nova reminds us of a Jewish comedienne's "anti-Catholic rant in which she tells the pope to end world hunger by selling the Vatican" — Sarah Silverman and the Pope.

A few years ago, Vaticanologist John Allen, Jr., delivered a speech about the popular misconceptions about the Holy See — 5 Myths. Wealth was among them, about which Mr. Allen said the following:
    In the public’s imagination, the Vatican is awash in priceless art, hidden Nazi gold, plundered treasures from around the world, and vast assets tucked away from prying eyes in the Vatican Bank. Reality is far more prosaic. To put it bluntly, the Vatican is not rich. It has an annual operating budget of $260 million, which would not place it on any Top 500 list of major social institutions. To draw a comparison in the non-profit sector, Harvard University has an annual operating budget of a little over $1.3 billion, which means it could run the equivalent of five Vaticans every year and still have pocket change left over. The Holy See’s budget would qualify it as a mid-sized American Catholic college. It’s bigger than Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles (annual budget of $150 million) or Saint Louis University ($174 million), but substantially less than the University of Notre Dame ($500 million).

    The total patrimony of the Holy See, meaning its property holdings (including some 30 buildings and 1,700 apartments in Rome), its investments, its stock portfolios and capital funds, and whatever it has storied up in a piggy bank for a rainy day, comes to roughly $770 million. This is substantial, but once again one has to apply a sense of scale. What the Holy See calls “patrimony” is roughly what American universities mean by an “endowment” – in other words, funds and other assets designed to support the institution if operating funds fall short. The University of Notre Dame has an endowment of $3.5 billion, meaning a total 4.5 times as great as the Vatican’s.

    But what of the some 18,000 artistic treasures in the Holy See, such as the Pietà, that don’t show up on these ledgers? From the Holy See’s point of view, these artworks are part of the artistic heritage of the world, and may never be sold or borrowed against. Michelangeo’s famous Pieta statue, the Sistine Chapel, or Raphael’s famous frescoes in the Apostolic Palace are thus listed at a value of 1 Euro each. In fact, those treasures amount to a net drain on the Holy See’s budget, because millions of Euros have to be allocated every year for maintenance and restoration.

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.