Are U.S. Bishops Complicit in the Vatican Financial Scandal?

Nearly two years ago, the Vatican began its historic prosecution of Cardinal Angelo Becciu and other defendants accused of extortion, fraud, money laundering, and misuse of Vatican funds, including charitable funds donated by American Catholics to the Peter’s Pence collection. Before the trial, Becciu had been one of the highest-ranking officials at the Vatican. On December 16, 2023, a Vatican court ruled that Becciu had engaged in embezzlement by using €200 million in Church funds to make speculative investments that “violated the provisions on the administration of ecclesiastical property” and sentenced him to more than five years in prison.

While Becciu’s conviction confirmed the Vatican’s reputation for financial corruption, it also revealed the ways in which the Church in the United States has facilitated that corruption. For years, the U.S. Church has provided the Vatican with millions of dollars in donations but has imposed no meaningful restrictions on the Vatican’s use of those donations, allowing financial abuses to continue unchecked. Becciu’s conviction now provides an opportunity for the U.S. Church—bishops and laity together—to insist that the Vatican put in place meaningful financial safeguards to help prevent another financial scandal.

Much of the U.S. Church’s funding for the Vatican comes through the Peter’s Pence collection. A 2011 post on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website illustrates how Peter’s Pence has traditionally been marketed to American Catholics and how they have responded:

The purpose of the Peter’s Pence Collection is to provide the Holy Father with the financial means to respond with emergency assistance to those who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster, and disease. This collection was started centuries ago to provide financial support for the Pope and has evolved to fund the Holy See’s charitable actions for those in need. The Peter’s Pence Collection has raised nearly $190 million to support our suffering brothers and sisters around the globe. THANK YOU for standing in solidarity with the Holy See with your generosity.

Since 2011, American Catholics have contributed approximately $10 million per year to Peter’s Pence, representing about 25 percent of all contributions to the collection. Donations are typically taken up as second collections at the parish level, then transferred to the local bishop, and then to the nuncio, the Holy See’s ambassador to the United States, who transfers them to the Vatican. In 2019, when news leaked that very little of the Peter’s Pence collection was used to support the pope’s charitable initiatives, the U.S. bishops, the USCCB, and the nuncio were unable to explain how funds donated to the collection had been used because they had never required the Vatican to administer the funds in a responsible and transparent manner.

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