The best defense is a good offense: while the press has been talking for several months about financial affairs that have hit the judicial news of the smallest state in the world, the president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (Apsa) has set the record straight in an interview with AFP, published on February 21, 2021.
“When they say that most of the real estate in Rome belongs to the Church and the Vatican, that is simply not true,” said an annoyed Bishop Nunzio Galantino. The president of Apsa intends to dot the “i’s” for those who claim that the Holy See is a point of reference for real estate speculators.
The decision to invest in real estate is recent: it dates back to the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) “in order to ensure the freedom and independence of the Church,” explains the Vatican property manager.
Before that date, and since 1870, the Church has remained deprived of its papal states: nearly sixty years later, in 1929, the Lateran Agreements enshrined the birth of the Vatican City State.
The Holy See was then compensated for the loss of its territories and many ecclesiastical goods, such as the imposing Quirinal Palace, which was the residence of thirty popes before becoming the home of the president of the Italian Republic.
In order to remain fully autonomous, the Vatican then began to invest in real estate: and Bishop Galantino listed some of the many real estate assets managed by his services in Europe.
In Rome, entire buildings were built, in particular on two axes converging directly on St. Peter's Square, including Via della Conciliazione. In the Eternal City and on the Peninsula, Apsa now rents 2,400 apartments and 600 Italian businesses or offices, which brought in 99 million euros in 2019.
In Switzerland - in Geneva and Lausanne in particular - the Holy See owns 140 properties, covering an area of 16,000 square meters, for a value of 91 million euros.
In London, 27 other real estate assets, or 4,600 square meters, are owned by the Church, representing a value of 108.5 million euros.
Finally, in Paris, on Boulevard Saint-Michel, the Odeon and Champs Elysées districts, the services of the Archdiocese manage 737 real estate properties on behalf of the Vatican, over 4,600 square meters of surface area, estimated at 595.5 million euros.
A total holding that is difficult to assess. The business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore puts forward the unconfirmed figure of “3 to 4 billion euros” which is far from constituting the “war chest” evoked by a sensational press.
Income from real estate is used to maintain basilicas and palaces, to cover the running costs of Church services, and to finance a large number of pious works and institutions.
The priority of the Vatican today is to “withdraw as quickly as possible” from questionable investments, in order to eliminate “any risk of damage to the reputation of the Church,” emphasizes Bishop Galantino.
It suffices to recall here the dubious transaction carried out in 2014 on Sloane Avenue in London, about which the Vatican justice ministry is investigating. Or this other London complex of 5 luxury apartments managed by the Centurion Global Fund investment fund, based in Malta, which financed with church money the film Rocketman, a biopic to the glory of the singer Elton John, an ardent activist of homosexual rights, thus causing the embarrassment to the Vatican.