Vatican returns to a profit but donations are in decline

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican returned to profit last year after three years in the red but donations from the faithful fell nearly $15 million, or 18 percent, amid tough economic times and the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal.

The Vatican issued its annual financial report Saturday, saying it made a profit of $14.3 million in 2010 following a loss of $5.8 million a year earlier and losses in 2007 and 2008.

Revenues were $356.1 million against expenses of $341.8 million. In a statement, the Vatican said the results showed a continuing positive trend that began in 2009 but was hampered then by the effects of the global financial downturn.

The separately administered Vatican city state also turned a $30.6 million profit, thanks primarily to booming ticket sales at the Vatican Museums.

But donations from individuals worldwide, the so-called Peter’s Pence, were down $14.8 million at $67.70 million in 2010, an 18 percent drop from the year before. No explanation was given.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Vatican officials believed the main reasons for the decrease were related to the lingering effects of the financial crisis on Catholics’ ability to donate, and the fact that two donations of a few million dollars apiece from individuals in 2009 weren’t repeated in 2010.

The abuse scandal also erupted in 2010 in Europe, traditionally a top source of donations after the U.S. Tens of thousands of people have either formally or informally left the Catholic Church in the wake of reports that priests sexually abused thousands of young people and bishops covered up the crimes.

In Austria alone, the number of Catholics who officially left the church in 2010 was 87,000 — a 64 percent increase over the 53,000 who formally had their names struck from church registries in 2009. Such numbers are easily tracked because members pay a church tax unless they formally leave the congregation. Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, which also levies a church tax on members, has also seen thousands of people formally quit.

Individual dioceses around the world also make donations to the Vatican each year to help the pope govern the universal church. Those figures were also down in 2010 at $27.36 million compared to the $31.51 million in 2009.

Lombardi said the effects of the abuse scandal on the Peter’s Pence and the diocesan donations wasn’t discussed in any depth during meetings Thursday and Friday of top cardinals to review the numbers. But he didn’t dispute that such an interpretation of the results could be made.

The Vatican bank, though increased its donations to the pope for his charitable works by $7.26 million to $79.9 million, the statement said.

The Vatican has published the annual report since 1981, when Pope John Paul II ordered disclosure as part of his efforts to debunk the idea that the Vatican is rich.

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