Nuncio Galantino, who was brought by Pope Francis two years ago to centralize Vatican property, says he is tired of “sensationalist” stories about the wealth of the papal state. “When people say that most real estate in Rome belongs to the Catholic Church and the Vatican, that is simply not true,” the bishop, who heads the Apostolic See’s (APSA) Heritage Administration, told AFP.
However, the size of the property owned by the Vatican is still attracting attention, while the management of a London building has caused a great scandal in the heart of the Catholic Church.
The investments date back to 1929, when the Vatican City State was established as an independent territory in an agreement with Italy that included compensation for countries seized from the former Papal States.
Among the church funds taken over was the huge Quirinale Palace, once home to 30 popes and now the residence of the Italian president.
Then Pope Pius XI decided to use the money to invest in property, including abroad, “in order to ensure the freedom and independence of the Church,” Galantino said.
APSA has managed 737 facilities in the heart of Paris, around the Boulevard Saint-Michel, the Odeon or the Champs Elysees, covering almost 56,000 square meters and worth about 595.5 million euros ($ 722.1 million).
There are 27 properties in London – among them are addresses in St. James’s Square, Kensington and New Bond Street, with an area of about 4,600 square meters and worth about 108.5 million euros (131.4 million dollars).
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, especially in Geneva and Lausanne, the Church has 140 estates of 16,000 square meters and worth more than 91 million euros (110 million dollars).
Back in Rome, the Vatican built entire buildings, especially in the two main streets that meet in St. Peter’s Square, including the famous Via della Conciliacione.
Today, APSA also directly manages the rental of 2,400 apartments and 600 offices and shops in Italy, which in 2019 brought in 99 million euros (119.9 million dollars).
Approximately 15 percent are released on the open market, 30 percent at subsidized rates, especially to staff and retirees, and the rest are occupied by Vatican institutions or rented free of charge to schools or universities.
One of Galantin’s goals is to improve the “performance” of Vatican assets, noting that some apartments are empty and others have fallen into disrepair after years of use.
But he insists the Holy See, far from being a merchant, recently donated property for the pope’s charity work, noting that a lavish building on one of Rome’s most sought-after hills is used to train the clergy.
Galantino says it is difficult to give value to the Italian possessions of the Vatican, not only because buildings like St. Peter’s Basilica are invaluable, but will probably expand to several billion euros just for rental real estate.
In addition, there are hundreds of apartments managed by the ministry that oversees the missionary activities of the Church, bringing in another three to four billion euros (3.6-4.8 billion dollars), according to the economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore.
APSA is still making an inventory of its Italian properties, which Galantino hopes will be completed by spring.
Pope Francis also recently placed under APSA control London property that the powerful State Secretariat – the Vatican’s central administration – had acquired through Italian intermediaries.
Among them is a house on 60 Sloan Avenue, in the heart of the exclusive Chelsea district of London, bought in two phases since 2014.
An Italian financier who was the Vatican’s mediator in that business was arrested last year on charges of corruption, although he was later released.
Last year, the Vatican police launched an emergency raid on the offices of the State Secretariat.
And last year, the high-ranking official in charge at the time of the agreement, Cardinal Angelo Becu, was abruptly fired.
The church was also embarrassed after an investment fund based in Malta, which manages another of its London property portfolios, which consists of five luxury apartments, used the earnings to invest in a film about gay music star Elton John, “Rocketman”.
The Pope said that he wants to withdraw from these investments as soon as possible in order to reduce any risk to the reputation of the Church.
Property scandals are nothing new.
Last month, Vatican courts sentenced the former head of the Vatican Bank IOR to nine years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering in connection with corrupt real estate transactions.
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