Rome, rendered


Yesterday I went up to St. Eulalia’s in Winchester, Mass. to hear Jason Berry talk about his important new book, Render Unto Rome, to 50 or 60 members of Voice of the Faithful. No one has done more to investigate the underside of the contemporary Roman Catholicism than Berry, from his bringing to light the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests back in the 1980s, to his work on Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ a decade ago, to his current exploration of, as the subtitle puts it, the secret life of money in the Catholic Church. Naturally, the ecclesiastical powers-that-be look at him as a turd in their punchbowl.

Render Unto Rome is rich in revelations, from the $2.3 billion in losses resulting from collection plate embezzlement in the U.S. over the past half-century to the financial wheeler-dealing of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. But perhaps Berry’s most egregious discovery concerns Peter’s Pence, the annual sum collected in June from parishes around the world for relief of the poor.

According to the USCCB website:

The Peter’s Pence Collection unites us in solidarity to the Holy See
and its works of charity to those in need. Your generosity allows the
Pope to respond to our suffering brothers and sisters with promptness,
love, and compassion, so God’s people will not feel alone in their time
of misfortune.  

However, of the $82 million received in 2009 (the last year for which figures are available) Berry was able to identify only $8.5 million that were actually spent on works of charity. Where the remaining 79 percent went the Vatican’s not saying, but Berry pointed out that through most of the 20th century, the revenues were used to shore up the Vatican’s operating budget. One might recall that it was the abuse of the Peter’s Pence Collection that so annoyed Martin Luther that he started the Reformation.

It would be nice if the news media and Catholics themselves took up the cause and began peppering Rome with inquiries about where all that alleged poor relief went–not to mention why someone like Sodano continues to occupy so exalted a position. Meanwhile, the USCCB has never seen fit to issue guidelines for the handling of collection plate receipts–the Church’s principal source of income. When they meet in Seattle next week, why not put that on their plate?