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Holy See Properties Overseas Unseen and Unknown

WASHINGTON-Pope Francis changed canon law and mandated that all properties be transferred into a holding company owned by the Holy See. The local parishes will continue managing the properties but no longer control the property with complete autonomy.

“The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See provides whatever is necessary for the ordinary activities of the Roman Curia and is responsible for liquidity, accounting, purchases and other services,” according to Roman Curia Art. 220 § 1.

Asset manager and custodian of activities for the movable patrimony of the Holy See and institutions connected with the Holy See will be managed through the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), the Holy See’s banking institution, according to the Catholic World Report.

Pope Francis’s order strips local and foreign Holy See-related entities of the ability to invest their funds independently. Francis instructed transferring all real estate, including overseas, to holding companies managed by IOR.

“All Holy See assets must be managed by IOR,” According to Vatican News.

Francis mandated investment accounts and stock holdings in foreign banks, including in Italy, be transferred to the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), and overseen by a department called the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), according to Reuters.

“Church properties, its parishes and related entities are owned locally under civil and canon law. Our properties are not owned or financed by the Vatican,” Patricia Zapor, director of media relations for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, wrote in an April 18, 2023, email.

The new law makes clear that the Holy See owns any asset, security, or property owned or acquired by a Vatican office or affiliated institution, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Poor compliance scores from MoneyVal, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe entrusted with assessing money laundering, combating the financing of terrorism, and providing recommendations to national entities to aid governmental systems, in 2021, contributed to Pope Francis’s push for Holy See financial and economic organization and transparency.

The push for financial transparency contrasts Code of Canon Law Book V. “Can. 1256,” which states, “under the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff, ownership of goods belongs to that juridic person who has acquired them legitimately.” The “juridic person,” according to the Holy See, were Cardinals, Bishops and Priests.

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, according to Roman Curia Art. 219 § 1, is the entity responsible for Holy See real estate and “movable asset” management and provides the Roman Curia resources to “carry out its work for the good of and in service to, the particular Churches.” The administration is also responsible for administering real estate and movable assets to entrusted entities with Holy See assets, who “respect asset purposes.”

Holy See owns 4,051 properties in Italy and roughly 1,120 abroad, not including its embassies worldwide, according to The Guardian. However, bishops, throughout the years, due to Canon Law 1256, purchased or gifted properties throughout the U.S., according to state land records.

Under articles 219 and 221 of the Roman Curia, bishops could freely purchase land, lots, and religious spaces relatively unchecked by the Holy See. The purchased properties were placed in the names of the individual bishops.

When the properties went into disrepair, tax sale, abandonment, mechanic liens, liens or foreclosure after a bishop’s death, the Holy See donated many properties to charitable organizations.

District of Columbia land records indicate some 20 owned and rented Holy See properties remain under retired or dead Archbishops, while other properties transferred to corporate entities owned by the Archdioceses.

Cardinal James Hickey served as Washington’s archbishop from 1980 to 2000, purchasing properties for the Holy See. He died in 2004, but some property(s) remain in his name nearly 20 years after his death, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue Real Property Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program: the property, 1625 Park Road NW, worth approximately $14.5 million, lists him as the current owner.

Holy See appointed 194 Archdioceses to reside in the United States and 273 active Archbishops, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). All Archdioceses and Archbishops conducted similar real estate practices, indicating that the Holy See purchased far more properties than previously documented.

Pope Francis has attempted to consolidate much of the nation’s finances. Consolidation efforts from the Holy See and poor investment record-keeping created a dichotomy allowing local communities to use the properties and their revenue for anything the local parish deemed fit. With these new changes in investment policy, local parishes will not directly receive funding from properties or donations as the Holy See begins centralizing management and oversight, resulting in a loss of local revenue.

By Alex Fernandez

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