By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican released its most detailed-ever financial figures on Thursday, acknowledging it might have been swindled before but promising the faithful who have been shocked by money scandals that it would become like a "glass house" in its transparency.
The Vatican economy minister, Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, said the Vatican's total net assets in 2019 were about 4 billion euros, which is believed to be the first time any such figure has been given.
He spoke in an interview with Vatican media as a 12-page consolidated financial statement was released for the Holy See, the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church.
The statement, the first since 2016, includes figures on about 70 departments that oversee the governing of the 1.3 billion-member worldwide Church, its media operations and its embassies abroad.
It does not include the Vatican bank and the Vatican museums, which are both big money-makers.
The 4.0 billion euro figure, which Guerrero gave in the interview without providing details, is all-encompassing, while the detailed consolidated statement regarded only the Holy See.
The Holy See had a deficit of 22 million euros in 2019 after extraordinary expenses, down from a 50 million euro deficit in 2018. The deficit is expected to grow this year because the coronavirus pandemic has drained income, particularly from the museums.
LUXURY LONDON BUILDING
The Vatican has been caught up in a scandal involving the purchase by its Secretariat of State of a luxury building in London through various players it has accused of being unscrupulous.
One of the key figures involved in the London deal, Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, until 2018 the number two in the Secretariat of State, was fired by Pope Francis last week under separate accusations of embezzlement and nepotism. Becciu, 72, denies all wrongdoing.
"It is possible that in some cases, the Holy See, apart from being badly advised, was also swindled," Guerrero said.
In June, Vatican police arrested Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian middleman who was part of the London property deal, and charged him with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering. Torzi, who denies wrongdoing, was later released provisionally. Five Vatican employees lost their jobs last year over the deal and are still under investigation.
Guerrero said Peter's Pence, money from direct contributions from the faithful to the pope, was not used to cover losses from the London deal. He did not say if the fund was used for the original purchase in 2014.
"The economy of the Holy See has to be a glass house. The faithful have a right to know how we use resources," he said.
He said the Vatican was centralising all investment decisions under one department.
The Secretariat of State used its funds to buy the London building, which would not be possible after centralisation.
Guerrero was named last year to succeed Australian Cardinal George Pell, who returned to Rome on Wednesday. Pell was cleared of sexual abuse charges in Australia after spending 13 months in prison. It was not clear if he will resume any Vatican role.
Pell had accused Beccui of blocking Vatican financial reforms and after Becciu was fired, Pell said the pope "is to be thanked and congratulated".
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)