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The Pope's Divisions

September 13, 1987

HOW MANY corporate divisions hath the Pope? Well, none, strictly speaking; but within the Catholic church can be found the rough equivalent of many corporate hallmarks, everything from flow charts to limos. The Vatican has somewhere between eight and a dozen of the latter, used mainly for whisking visiting dignitaries around Rome.

Worldwide, John Paul commands 405,000 priests who in turn oversee 30,000 secondary schools, 6,000 hospitals and almost 7,000 orphanages. Were it not for a decentralized system of management, this huge organization long ago would have sunk into administrative nightmare. As it is, the Vatican gives only broad direction to the church's 3,100 bishops, who have wide authority over all the operations of their dioceses.

Since Pope John Paul II has decided to spend much of his energy taking high-visibility tours of the world, most of the day-to-day administration of the Vatican has been left to 10 or so of his chief cardinals. Each has been given charge of a major church office, which are called congregations and resemble a corporate division. There is, for example, the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. A recent proposal to combine some congregations for economic reasons has produced ferocious in-fighting among the cardinals.

By all accounts, the Vatican is facing a serious financial crunch. Since 1984 there has been such a flow of red ink that if the church were an American company it would be an easy target for takeover. Last year the deficit hit $56 million, and this year, almost certainly, it will be larger.

Clearly, the problem is one of maximizing revenues, because the Vatican is rich in assets. A ranking cardinal recently estimated the Vatican's assets at $560 million, but this figure apparently did not include two of the church's chief financial supports, the Patrimony of the Holy See and the Institute for Religious Works. They are the equivalents, respectively, of an investment portfolio and a bank, and some outside observers have estimated their value at $2 billion to $3 billion.

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