Roman Catholic Church's wealth impossible to calculate
PAOLO COCCO/AFP/Getty Images Kristopher Morrison | March 8, 2013 10:06 PM ETMore from Kristopher Morrison
|A painting by artist Michel Angelo Pacetti shows a parade of French troops on St. Peter' Square at the Vatican displayed during an exhibition of papal portraits from the Renaissance to Pope John Paul II in Rome in 2004. The Roman Catholic Church's real estate and art have not been properly evaluated, since the church would never sell them.|
It is impossible to calculate the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. In truth, the church itself likely could not answer that question, even if it wished to.
Its investments and spending are kept secret. Its real estate and art have not been properly evaluated, since the church would never sell them.
There is no doubt, however, that between the church’s priceless art, land, gold and investments across the globe, it is one of the wealthiest institutions on Earth.
Since 313 A.D., when Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire, its power has been in near-constant growth.
The church was able to acquire land, most notably the Papal States surrounding Rome, convert pagan temples and claim relics for itself. Over 300 years, it became one of Europe’s largest landowners.
For the next thousand years, tithes and tributes flowed in from all over Europe. Non-Christians and even fellow Christians were killed and their property confiscated. For example, the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople in the early 13th century brought it gold, money and jewels.
But by the beginning of the 20th century, the church had faced several hundred years of turbulence. Protestantism had claimed many of its members. The French Revolution at the end of the 18th century outlawed the church and though Napoleon allowed it to return, his relationship with various popes was stormy.
Despite this, the church retained great influence in Europe and the Jesuit order focused on missionary work, spreading Catholicism to other countries.
In the 1870s, the Papal States were annexed by the new kingdom of Italy and the pope’s territorial influence dwindled to the Vatican.
In 1929, the Church received compensation for its lost land in an agreement with the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Under the Lateran Accords, it was paid about $92-million and, in return, recognized his government.
Investing that money helped fill the Holy See’s coffers, ensuring its financial security.
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the nest egg has grown to at least $655-million.
The Vatican’s portfolio includes property in London, including the building housing Bulgari Jewelers, and apartment buildings in Paris and Switzerland.