The Vatican says it has been “swindled” in some of its investments, including a multi-million-pound property deal in London, as it revealed for the first time that it holds total assets worth about €4 billion.
The Holy See took the unusual decision to release on Thursday the most detailed breakdown of its finances ever disclosed, including pie charts showing its income, investments and expenses.
“It is possible that in some cases, the Holy See was, apart from being badly advised, also swindled,” said Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, the Vatican’s minister for the economy.
The Vatican has been mired in a scandal over the 2014 purchase of a €350 million property in Sloane Avenue in London, in which the building was reportedly bought for far more than its market value, resulting in substantial losses for the Holy See.
Money was allegedly skimmed off by intermediaries, with an investigation by the Vatican still ongoing.
A powerful cardinal who has been linked to the deal was last week forced to resign over allegations of embezzlement and nepotism, with Pope Francis taking the rare decision to strip him of his rights as a cardinal.
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who was head of the Vatican department that decides which Catholics should be made saints, has also been accused of funneling money and contracts to companies and charities run by his three brothers, but has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Compounding his problems, the cardinal’s lawyer was forced to resign on Thursday after posting on social media photos of himself posing on a beach in a pair of skimpy swimming trunks.
Ivano Iai said he was sorry for the embarrassment he had caused with the photos, in which he was draped over rocks and lay on the sand on a beach in Sardinia. He had posted the revealing photos on Twitter and Instagram.
He said it was with “great sorrow” that he had resigned as lawyer for the cardinal and his brothers.
The debacle added to the sense of chaos within the Vatican, where Pope Francis has fought for years to introduce more transparency and accountability to its byzantine finances.
In the last few months, Vatican investigators have carried out raids on various departments, including the Vatican’s financial watchdog, in connection with the London property deal. Computers and files have been seized and several staff members suspended.
They also arrested an Italian businessman who allegedly helped broker the purchase of the building in Chelsea.
The release of the 12-page consolidated financial statement, as well as an interview with Father Guerrero, appeared to be an attempt by the Vatican to counter criticism that its finances remain opaque and riddled with corruption.
"I think that we are learning from the errors or the imprudence of the past,” he said. The finances of the Vatican must be as transparent as “a house of glass. The faithful have the right to know how we use the money.”
The Vatican was working to introduce more transparency and to improve communication between its different departments.
“We can certainly make mistakes, or be swindled, but that is harder when we collaborate together,” he said.