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The Vatican’s biggest charity only gives 10% of its donations to charity

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

A new report from the Wall Street Journal found that as little as 10 percent of the $55 million donated to the Peter's Pence fund actually went to the poor.

The Vatican annually collects over $55 million in donations through the Peter’s Pence charity fund and church law dictates that Pope Francis can legally use that money as he sees fit. A Wall Street Journal report found that as little as 10 percent of those donations have been used for actual charity.

According to MSNBC, two-thirds of the remaining money has gone to balance the Vatican’s internal budget.

This news could be alarming to donors who gave with the intention of helping the needy and not paying off the Vatican’s administrative deficit.

The Holy See’s deficit more than doubled to $76 million on a budget of $333 million in 2018. Ironically enough, Pope Francis’s 2013 election to the Papacy hinged on alleviating the Vatican’s financial issues.

Meanwhile, the pope also fired the Vatican’s top financial regulator in November. The public claim was his connection to the real estate scandal in London.

The report posits that the Vatican’s growing debt is largely due to the increase in wages and a decrease in investments, as well as other serious financial inefficiencies.

Perhaps most disturbing is the simple fact that a pope can use charitable donations in any manner that serves the ministry as opposed to the greater good.

Additionally, the assets of Peter’s Pence have sharply diminished since Francis became pope in 2013. In the last six years, $775 million in assets became $665 million.

Peter’s Pence (or Denarii Sancti Petri and “Alms of St. Peter”) traditionally receives donations from Roman Catholics every June. According to the charity’s website, it’s “a day for the works of charity.”

“These collections and donations by the individual faithful or entire local churches raise the awareness that all the baptized are called to materially sustain the work of evangelization and at the same time to help the poor in whatever way is possible,” the site continues.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be too many regulatory barriers within this tradition — if any.

Perhaps none too surprising is the fact that Peter’s Pence isn’t listed on charity rankings websites. Neither Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, nor GuideStar includes the fund in their records.

The website for Peter’s Pence simply provides bank transfer numbers that lead to an Italian bank.

“It is an ancient practice which began with the first community of the apostles,” the Peter’s Pence website states. “It continues to be repeated because charity distinguished the disciples of Jesus,” the site claims, before quoting Jesus from the Gospel of John.

“From this, they will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Ultimately, this scandal falls on the heels of several others within the Vatican.

Vatican police raided the Secretariat of State and head financial office in October. Despicable sex abuse allegations have continued.

As for the trajectory of Peter’s Pence donations, one needs only look at the numbers which seem to reflect a growing distrust on behalf of donors in the Vatican. Donations dropped from $66.6 million in 2017 to $55.5 in 2018, and it’s more than likely that 2019 will see a similar trend.

After learning about the Vatican using as little as 10 percent of its Peter’s Pence charity fund for the poor, read about the third most powerful Vatican official Cardinal George Pell being found guilty of child sexual assault. Then, learn about the disturbing disappearance of Vatican teenager Emanuela Orlandi.

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