What’s Up With Peter’s Pence?

What’s Up With Peter’s Pence? December 13, 2019

TheFourthLink : Pope Saint Peter Vatican /Needpix

In the Wall Street Journal, Francis Rocca wrote an article, suggesting that there was something amiss with the way money collected for Peter’s Pence is being used by the Vatican:

What the church doesn’t advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than €50 million ($55 million) annually, goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget, while as little as 10% is spent on charitable works, according to people familiar with the funds.

The little-publicized breakdown of how the Holy See spends Peter’s Pence, known only among senior Vatican officials, is raising concern among some Catholic Church leaders that the faithful are being misled about the use of their donations, which could further hurt the credibility of the Vatican’s financial management under Pope Francis. [1]

Rocca makes it seem that the Vatican, and with it, the Pope is being dishonest with its collection. While it is true that how the money is used is not generally discussed, this is not because it is a secret. Certainly the USCCB’s description of the collection does not help, when it states, “The purpose of the Peter’s Pence Collection is to provide the Holy Father with the financial means to respond to those who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster, and disease.”[2] While it certainly helps the Pope to achieve those ends, that is because the purpose of the collection is to help give the Pope the funds which he needs. Those who have an invested interest in denigrating Pope Francis have continued with Rocca’s charge instead of investigating and reporting on what Peter’s Pence is really about and whether or not the Vatican’s actions goes against the purpose of Peter’s Pence. Many have an interest to actively mislead Catholics in regards Pope Francis; they will take every opportunity they can to instill seeds of doubt as to the quality of his character. They will not report on the history of Peter’s Pence and how it has been used before. Instead, they will give half-truths in order to lead people astray. This is because the Pope has spoken out against, and works against, various ideologies which are followed by people with considerable money and power who are afraid that if the Pope’s teachings were followed, they would lose both the money and power which they have unjustly amassed for themselves.

Peter’s Pence, in its modern form, was established in the reign of Pope Pius IX as a way to help with the Pope’s monetary interests As the 19th century Catholic Encyclopedia explained, Peter’s Pence became one of the “principal sources of income of the Holy See.”[3] Unlike the suggestion of the Wall Street Journal, and many of those referencing Rocca’s report, Peter’s Pence truly is meant to do more than give money to the Pope for the sake of charity. The Vatican certainly uses it as one of many sources for their charitable giving, and indeed, because of it, they Pope has more financial resources and is far more capable of engaging charitable actions, but it was never meant to be seen as being collected solely for the sake of such charity. It is given for all of the needs of the church, as the Vatican explains:

Peter’s Pence is the name given to the financial support offered by the faithful to the Holy Father as a sign of their sharing in the concern of the Successor of Peter for the many different needs of the Universal Church and for the relief of those most in need.[4]

Likewise, the Peter’s Pence, on a website the Vatican has made for it, is said to be given as a sign of solidarity with the Pope and his work:

The Peter’s Pence collection is a gesture of solidarity. Through it, every member of the faithful can participate in the Pope’s activity. It is an activity that supports the most needy and ecclesial communities in difficulty who approach the Apostolic See for help.[5]

It is an act of charity (giving of alms) when Catholics give to Peter’s Pence, which is why it is properly said to be a charitable contribution, but the purpose of that contribution is to help the Pope in all of his works. It is to be given for the many different needs of the universal church as determined by the Pope (and his advisors), which means, many particular ecclesial communities which are suffering as a result of financial difficulties will find themselves being sustained through the generous contributions given through Peter’s Pence. But how the Vatican uses the money which it collects can include using it to generate more revenue, to make sure that the Vatican truly can meet its financial obligations not just now, but in the future, which is why some of the money is used for investments. This need comes to the church as a result of the economic system of the modern age.

It should not be surprising that many organizations, sometimes coming from within the church, which have been working hard against Pope Francis would therefore decry the use of funds given to Peter’s Pence. Before Rocca’s article, they have been generation the notion that Catholics should abstain from giving to the Peter’s Pence initiative, and they have made it clear, they are doing so because they reject the Pope’s teachings. We find too many so-called Catholics actively resisting the Pope and his teachings. We should understand that by telling people not to give to Peter’s Pence, they are demonstrating their lack of solidarity with the Pope. They want to make it seem like each and every fault the church faces today comes from Pope Francis, when in fact, those faults existed in the church long before he became Pope and he has been working hard to deal with those problems in ways which transcend his immediate predecessors.

Francis Rocca did a hit piece on Peter’s Pence, an article which is now being read and used by many others to promote the idea that the Pope is dishonest and is actively misusing funds which have been given to him. Peter’s Pence certainly helps the Pope in his charitable actions, but that is because the Pope needs funding in order to render his assistance to those in need. And, if people look closely, it is clear that the Pope is doing much to help those in need. Indeed, it is because he is doing this, that he is helping those many of the elites have no concern to help, he has felt the rage of the elite against him and they are trying to find ways to stop him. Discouraging Catholics from giving to Peter’s Pence is one of those ways. The less resources the Pope has, the less he can help feed the poor, help give shelter to refugees in need, the less the church will the ability to help clean up the environment.  The very people who are suggesting something is afoul with Peter’s Pence themselves will do nothing for those who would be hurt if Peter’s Pence is defunded: and that is just what those critical of the Pope seem to want.

This is not to say the Vatican perfectly handles its finances. No organization its size does. There is always room to question the dispersal of financial resources, to promote changes to make its use better. But this goes with the nature of the church. As long as history continues, as long as the church is a part of that history, it will find itself connected with the problems of history and will need constant reform. In order to have an honest talk about such resources, people need to be properly informed as to what is going on and not being given half-truths which are used to undermine the church and its needs. Peter’s Pence is about helping the Pope by making sure he has the funds he needs in order to continue proper administration of the church and all its activities. It is about showing solidarity with the Pope. Those attacking it show exactly where they stand.

[1] Francis X. Rocca, “Vatican Uses Donations for the Poor to Plug Its Budget Deficit” in The Wall Street Journal (12-11-2019).

[2] Taken from the USCCB website:  http://www.usccb.org/catholic-giving/opportunities-for-giving/peters-pence/ .

[3] Herbert Thurston, “Peterspence.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911).

[4] This is how Peter’s Pence is described on the Vatican website (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/obolo_spietro/documents/index_en.htm ).

[5] Taken from http://www.peterspence.va/en.html.


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