By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)—Veteran Rome-based reporter and author John L. Allen, Jr, says there is no such thing as “the Vatican” as commonly portrayed by the mainstream media.
“Only seen from afar” is the Vatican perceived as a bunch of “Stepford wives all in lockstep,” the National Catholic Reporter’s senior correspondent told the Canadian Catholic School Trustees Association annual conference in Ottawa Sept. 23.
Those who work in the Vatican come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sometimes have widely differing viewpoints, he said.
“We think we know what classes of people are like,” he said, noting these stereotypes are often wrong and this is especially true of those who work in the Roman Curia.
Allen, whose most recent book is The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, also blasted the myth of “ultra-centralization” and the idea that there is “some central figure who controls everything.”
The Catholic Church is “top-down on doctrine” but “bottom up on everything else,” when it comes to administration, finances, personnel and management, he said.
On these other issues, “Rome is not even aware they are happening,” he said.
The total workforce for the Roman Curia is 2,170 people who serve 1.2 billion Catholics.
“The Vatican does not have the tools to micromanage,” he said.
This myth of central control plays into debates about clerical sexual abuse, Allen said, because it underlies assumptions among victims’ and their lawyers that there is some “smoking gun in the Vatican” responsible for the crisis.
Another myth is that the Vatican is ultra-wealthy, he said. The annual operating budget of the Vatican City State is $270 million, he said, comparing that with the annual operating budget of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana which is $1.2 billion.
The Catholic Church in the United States collects $200 million a week, almost enough in a week to fund the Vatican for a year, he said.
As for the buildings, real estate and money in the patrimony of the Holy See, Allen said it amounts to an endowment of $1 billion. The endowment of Notre Dame University is $30 billion and that of Harvard University $100 billion.
The Holy See’s financial means are “not as endless as people imagine,” he said.
As for the Vatican art, it is “literally priceless,” Allen said, because it can never be sold but is kept for the benefit of humankind and requires millions of dollars to maintain and restore. Though the Vatican museum collects entry fees, that money is used to defray the mammoth maintenance and restoration costs.
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