(Note: Readers have asked for a fuller translation of this article which we are posting here.)
Curzio Maltese writes that Paul Marcinkus, former president of IOR -- the Vatican Bank -- escaped Italian justice for his illegal dealings with Roberto Calvi, former president of Banco Ambrosiano. Calvi was found dead in London.
"When I came to the CEI, (Italian Bishops Conference) in 1986, we hardly could afford to pay four clerks," said Camillo Ruini, who does not exaggerate. In the mid-eighties Vatican finances consisted of an empty black box. One year after coming to the CEI only a Vatican passport saved the President of IOR (The Vatican Bank, Instituto Opere Religione), Monsignor Paul Marcinkus from being arrested by Italian police after the failure of Roberto Calvi's Banco Ambrosiano, one of the major Italian banks.
The economic crisis is one reason why Pope John Paul II asked the young bishop Camillo Ruini to come to Rome from the city of Reggio Emilia. The bishop, endowed with great managerial skills, was then known by most people for having celebrated the wedding of Romano Prodi (the current prime minister) and Flavia Franzoni.
Ruini in 1981 became secretary of CEI and was elected president in 1991. The rising rank and growing economic power could consequently influence the media and politics. At the same time the president of Italian bishops played a central role in Italian public debate and in the Vatican as never had happened with his two predecessors. He became the great elector of Pope Benedict XVI. The reasons for his success derive from his intelligence, his iron will and from his extraordinary skill as an organizer.
But another key to understanding Ruini's ascent is called the "eight per thousand." A flow of money like a river starts to enter CEI's coffers starting in spring of 1990 with a new income law allowing for an automatic share of eight cents for each one thousand euros of taxable income to go to a list of recognized churches and charities. The river soon was transformed into a sea of a billion euros a year. Ruini is the uncontested "dominus" for all that.
Except for the automatic expenses like the priests' stipends, the President of CEI, through a few trusted collaborators, has the last word on each expenditure from repairs to a church office, building of a mission in Africa or real estate and financial investments.
The investigation by this newspaper on cost of the church to Italian taxpayers starts from this "eight cents per one thousand." The calculation is not simple and it is less fashionable than the present diatribes on the cost of politics in Italy.
The price to support politicians is now estimated at 4 billion euros a year. Half the value of what is necessary to cover the annual budget deficit is used to feed the political class. This is equivalent to the money spent to build the bridge between Siciliy and the Italian peninsula or the "Moses" project to save Venice from the high tides.
This scandalous estimate comes from what is reported in newspapers and the magazine Il Mondo, referring to the recently book called La Casta written by journalists Rizzo and Stella and one titled I costi della Democrazia by authors Salvi and Villone. The sum is reached by adding the values of the 150,000 stipends paid to representatives elected by the people, from members of the European Parliament to the last councilor of communities in the mountains, plus compensation for almost 300,000 consultants, ministerial expenses, pensions for politicians, electorial expenses reimbursed to the parties, public financing of parties' newspapers, the "blue cars" and other privileges like free use of cafeterias and restaurants in the Italian Parliament.
To be fair, the same measure adopted for estimating the cost of politics could be applied to the "cost of the church." The final result could be, however, very high and very approximate, like the one that can be read in the libels and on anticlerical Web sites.
If we are to be more prudent and realistic then we can say the cost of the church for the Italian taxpayer is equivalent to the one calculated for the political class. This amount to m than 4 billion euros per year, considering direct financing and tax exemption from the state and local governments.
The first item includes the billion euros deriving from the 0.08 percent, 650 million euros for the stipends of the 22,000 reliion teacher (the well-known Catholic writer Vittorio Messori defined this as "an old wreck" of the Concordato -- the agreement made by the church and Benito Mussolini in 1929), 700 million euros given by the state and local governments for the school covenants and health coverage. There additionally is cariable financing for the "Grandi Eventi" (Big Events) from the Jubilee (3,500 billion of the old liras or about 3 million euros) to the 2.5 million euros for the meeting in Loreto and the sanctuary of the Madonna of Loreto. This amounts to a yearly average during the last 10 years of 250 million euros. In addition to the 2.6 billion euros of direct contributions to the church, we must add the sum of the fiscal advantages granted to the Vatican which are now being investigated by authorities of the European Union. (State help is not allowed by EU statute.)
The list is immense at the local and national level. If we want to follow the cautious method applied bere a sum of between 400 and 700 million euros is not going to ICI, the local real estate taxation, according to a favorable estimate by cities authorities and another 500 euros is not going for other kinds of taxation. In addition, there are another 600 million euros for "legalized" tax evasion in the world of Catholic organized tourism on behalf of about 40 million Catholic pilgrims and visitors. The total is over 4 billion euros a year, half of the annual Italian state deficit.
Eight cents for each 1,000 euros of taxable income goes to the Vatican from each taxpayer whether or not they want the money to go there. A sophisticated and unconstitutional trick was invented to allow this, the writer said.
The conclusion is the church cost to Italian taxpayers is high and about the same as what goes to politicians. An Italian member of Parliament gets a pension of 3,000 euros a month even if he as served for one day. These are reasons Italy has the highest debt in the world.
The tax money given to the Vatican has not produced good results. This money is only minimally spent for charities and the number of priests in the last 20 years has reached a new low of 39,000. There once were 60,000 priests.
More importantly, the present Pope Benedict XVI said 30 years ago when he was a progressive theologian that the church was becoming for many people the main obstacle to faith. They see the human ambition to power, the little theater of men who have the pretense to administer the official Christianity.