Does the Pope Have a Credit Card?

For the first time ever, an American Cardinal could be named Pope. It’s still an incredibly important event for those in the Catholic faith, regardless of who is ultimately chosen. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, along with his widely reported sense of humor, is considered to be one on a short list of potential replacements for Pop Benedict XVI, who retired days ago. Currently, he oversees the second largest American archdiocese that touts 2.5 million Catholics.

An American Pope

While it is an exciting time for the church, Timothy Dolan has faced a few controversies over the course of his career with at least one of them having to do with the finances of the church. He led the Milwaukee Diocese for seven years and during that time, his was one of eight that filed for bankruptcy, mostly due to civil claims filed by families at the height of the sex abuse scandal. He also authorized payments in $20,000 increments to those priests who were involved in that scandal in order to get them out of the church. It was controversial then and remains so today.

Pope Salary

We wondered what, if anything, the Pope earns in terms of a salary. And if he does collect a salary, is it given to charity? And if he does, is it mandatory? Of course, finding definitive numbers was challenging, but we did discover a bit of information that provides some insight. Pope Benedict XVI received around $200 million annually that’s earmarked for his personal use. These funds aren’t counted as income in terms of the Holy See nor are they part of Vatican City State, which as many know, is considered an independent country where Vatican offices, residences and St. Peter’s Basilica are found. It is exactly as stated: funds for the Pope to spend in any way he chooses.

Many Financial Sources

It’s also believed these funds are derived from a few different sources, including works of charity that American Catholics contribute to during Mass. In 2006, it was widely rumored that the Peter’s Pence total was $101.9 million. By 2009, it totaled close to $83 million. And yes, the Vatican indeed releases financial reports every year. Each Pope is also afforded his own credit card, in which the Catholic community as a whole covers. It’s rarely used, though it is his to use as he chooses. A stipend is provided for clothing, meals other other expenses. It’s also believed that some monies are doled out in $40 increments as needed, though no one ever asks the Pope what he needs the money for.

CharityNavigator, which tracks these funds, report Catholic Charities USA total income in 2009, the last year that the breakdown is available, as a little more than $23 million in 2009. Another American based charity, Catholic Charities USA is an umbrella organization that covers more than 200 of the Church’s agencies. The Papal Foundation, also in the U.S. has provided more than $70 million in grants and gifts in order for new churches to be built while also caring for society’s weakest. This foundation’s website reveals a total of 65 grants with five of them earmarked for those in poverty.

Also, during one National Catholic Prayer Breakfast a few years ago, the Pope was presented with $100,00. The Papal Foundation provides millions of dollars every year for the support, missions and other programs the Pope deems necessary. It’s rare the source of the funding is ever disclosed.

Never Let Our Charity be Lacking

Meanwhile, The Almoner’s Office, found in the northern sections of Vatican City, each year distributes $2 million to be doled out to families who are struggling with utility bills, medical bills or housing costs. The money is distributed to community pastors for them to use their own discretion. In late 2012, one American reporter recalls that Pope Benedict had instructed those community priests to “never let our charity be lacking”. He also stressed they come to him if they needed additional monies. He would personally see to it that they received whatever needed from a financial aspect.


Forbes listed 85 year old Pope Benedict XVI as the fifth most powerful person in the world this past November; in fact, he ranked higher than presidents an chancellors in other countries, this reveals much about not only the power the Pope commands, but also the financial stability of the Vatican and the Catholic community as a whole.

Here are a few more Vatican financial facts:

  • In 2012, JP Morgan Chase announced it was closing Vatican accounts, citing a “lack of transparency at the Holy See’s financial institution”.
  • Also in 2012, the Vatican announced it would be adopting universal financial standards in its efforts of keeping monetary crimes and scandals to a minimum.
  • Two years ago, accusations were made that there could exist money laundering in the church. Italian investigators quickly moved in and froze more than $30 million in the Church’s coffers.
  • In 2010, the U.S. State Department named the Holy See in an internal document as a “jurisdiction of concern” for money-laundering practices.
  • This past summer, investigators found 47 binders, each chock full of very personal communication efforts that revealed internal efforts of protecting the Holy See and the church as a whole. Those documents included banking and other financial documents, details of money transfers and “confidential internal reports” – each designed to “corruption in the Vatican”. That financial scandal has yet to be resolved. “It’s a matter of fact that the collaboration between the anti-money-laundering authorities of Italy and Vatican City have been interrupted, and requests for information have not received useful answers,” Rome Deputy Prosecutor Nello Rossi this past December.
  • A new consumer watchdog group, similar to the U.S Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was founded. It’s known as the Financial Intelligence Authority.

Clearly, the next Pope is sure to have his hands full with challenges – both financial and otherwise. Overcoming the financial (or near-financial) scandals and falls should be top priority of the incoming Pope, though there are many potential hotspots that could present as major problems if any addressed soon.

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