VATICAN CITY — A special commission of 10 Roman Catholic cardinals responsible for overseeing Vatican finances predicted Thursday that the financially strapped city-state will suffer a record budget deficit of $63 million for the current year and appealed to church leaders throughout the world to help resolve the crisis.
The projected shortfall exceeds last year's deficit, which the special Council of Cardinals had previously estimated at $56 million.
Although the cardinals made public no detailed Vatican financial figures after a three-day meeting, their brief press release forecasting the record deficit contained a note of near-despair.
The statement said the cause of the deficit was "the drastically insufficient wealth of the Holy See, with its total revenue not reaching even half of the expenses necessary for the activities of the central administration (of the church.)"
Digging Into Resources
The cardinals complained that last year the church was forced to dig deeply into its capital resources to make up for insufficient earnings and contributions.
Although the annual Peter's Pence--a yearly offering by the world's 800 million Catholics originally intended for use by the Pope in financing charities and missions--has in recent years been used to defray Vatican deficits, the cardinals said it was woefully short.
In 1986, Peter's Pence totaled $32 million, "a sum which, because of the sharp drop in the value of the dollar against the Italian lira, fell far short of covering the year's deficit," the cardinals said.
However a source familiar with the cardinals' deliberations said there was some cheer in the Peter's Pence figure because it showed an increase for the second year in a row. Contributions had fallen in 1984, apparently reflecting widespread disappointment over the involvement of the Vatican Bank--the Institute of Religious Works, as it is formally known--in Italy's worst bank scandal, the $1.3-billion collapse of Banco Ambrosiano.
The Institute of Religious Works is an independent church institution that does not figure in the Vatican budget or fall under the jurisdiction of the Council of Cardinals. Its president, American Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, was recently charged, along with two other bank officials, with "fraudulent bankruptcy" in connection with the Ambrosiano affair, and the Italian Justice Ministry said this week that it will soon request their extradition to face trial.
The Vatican budget covers the expenses of the church's central administration, Vatican radio, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano and Vatican delegations abroad, as well as a minor portion of the Pope's foreign travels. Papal travel expenses are mostly borne by the churches of the countries he visits.
The cardinals' statement said they are sending "concrete proposals" to the world's Catholic bishops, asking their assistance in solving the deficit crisis. It gave no details, but sources close to the cardinals said their most likely new proposal would be to call for a new annual collection, apart from Peter's Pence, specifically earmarked for Vatican expenses.