Pope Francis has ended the practice of giving cardinals and senior curial staff free or subsidized accommodation in Vatican-owned properties. The move comes amid a serious financial crisis for the Vatican, and after salary cuts to Vatican officials and cardinals.
The decision has faced pushback from Vatican prefects, whom Pope Francis rebuffed with a law on financial management issued last week.
The change to subsidized apartment policies, which was quietly announced this week but approved by Francis last month, came in response to an “economic crisis” for the Holy See and encountered considerable resistance from senior Vatican officials.
Effective immediately, cardinals, prefects of dicasteries, presidents of Vatican bodies, as well as senior curial staffers will have to pay normal market rates for accommodation in Vatican-owned properties and rent of apartments in Vatican buildings.
The decision came in the form of a rescript, a formal legal change made at the request of Maximino Caballero Ledo, the prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, and was issued by Francis following an audience with Caballero on Feb. 13 and posted on a public notice board in Vatican City this week.
News of the rescript was first published by the blog Messainlatino.it on Monday, and was subsequently confirmed by The Pillar.
According to the rescript, the policy change was issued “in a context economic crisis such as the current one, which is particularly serious,” which Pope Francis said “has shown me the need for everyone to make an extraordinary sacrifice to allocate more resources to the mission of the Holy See.”
Subsidized or free lodging in Church-owned buildings has been a traditional part of the remuneration of senior Vatican staff for generations, and has long been considered an offset to the relatively low wages paid by curial departments. It follows a previous salary cut of 8% for senior Vatican staffers and 10% to the stipend paid to cardinals in 2021.
The current cardinal’s stipend is 4,500 euros per month, available to cardinals living in Rome.
The rescript did not specify how a fair market rent for a property within Vatican City would be determined, or who would be expected to rent one if not a Vatican City resident or employee.
But many Vatican-owned buildings in Rome have apartments rented to private individuals without any connection to the Vatican, which would likely provide a basis of comparison.
Sources close to the Secretariat for the Economy told The Pillar that the decision has encountered considerable resistance from curial departments, which argued that open-market rates for some grace-and-favor apartments used by cardinals and other officials could amount to nearly all of their salary in some cases.
But, one official told The Pillar, “that is how serious the situation is.”
“Every asset of the Holy See has to be put to work,” they said, “there is no other way.”
The rescript, while effective immediately, does contain a provision that will see current lease contracts honored, but they cannot be renewed past their current term without papal approval.
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An official in one curial department told The Pillar that the policy had also been opposed as interference with the internal workings of dicasteries.
While the Holy See owns several buildings in both Vatican City and Rome, many others are actually owned directly by curial departments themselves, after they were bequeathed to the Church over centuries to support a specific department, like the Dicastery for the Evangelization.
Some dicastery heads have argued in recent weeks that the use of those properties, including for the housing of senior staff, should fall under the direct supervision of the departments themselves and not subject to policies set by the Secretariat for the Economy.
Last week, in apparent answer to those objections, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio — a law — stating that all assets, including real estate, held or owned by any Vatican department or subsidiary institution or body were properly speaking the direct property of the Holy See, and therefore to be administered in line with central papal directives.
Caballero is still relatively new in his post as the prefect of the Vatican’s economic secretariat; he was confirmed in the role in November last year, replacing Jesuit priest Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, under whom he served as the institution’s secretary general.
The reference in the rescript to a “particularly serious economic crisis” underlines the ongoing financial problems facing the Vatican, despite more optimistic public statements from the Vatican.
At the time Caballero became prefect, Pope Francis praised his predecessor for having “succeeded in putting the economy in good order; it was a difficult and demanding job that has borne much fruit.”
Speaking on the release of financial statements for the 2021 economic year, Fr. Guerrero claimed a final deficit of 3 million euros on a 1.1 billion euro budget showed the Holy See’s books were “practically balanced” after being revised down from a projected loss of 33 million euros.
However, the former prefect did acknowledge that “we cannot say that the time for sacrifice is over; 2022 will be a particularly difficult year and so will 2023.”
“Now we have to face the budget for 2023, which does not allow us to be very cheerful, although the pressure from Covid has decreased,” Guerrero said in August last year.