New Vatican policy orders foreign investment accounts closed

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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square

By Philip Pullella

(Reuters) – The Vatican on Tuesday issued an overarching investments policy to ensure they are ethical, green, low-risk, and avoid weapons industries or health sectors involved in abortion, contraception or embryonic stem cells.

The guidelines order Vatican departments to close their investment accounts or stock holdings in foreign banks, including in Italy, and transfer them to the Vatican Bank, to be overseen by a department called the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA).

The investments are estimated at just under 2 billion euros ($2.05 billion).

The Investment Policy Statement (IPS), a radical overhaul after years of financial scandals, strips all Vatican departments of the ability to invest their funds independently.

It was this practice that allowed the Secretariat of State to invest directly in a London building that is at the centre of a corruption trial. The botched deal resulted in a loss of 140 million euros. All the defendants have denied wrongdoing.

“The fundamental objective is to discipline investments and centralise them,” said a senior Vatican official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It is more organised, more controlled, more transparent, definitely a step forward.”

The Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most important department that oversees diplomacy and all other departments, was already stripped of control over its funds in 2020.

“The decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice,” one of the principles of the 20-page IPS says.

It follows the establishment last month of a committee to oversee investment ethics. It is made up of non-Italians: Irish-American Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, who is based at the Vatican, and four outside lay financial experts in Britain, Germany, Norway and the United States.

The IPS prioritises investments that “contribute to a more just and sustainable world”, including assets whose issuers are environmentally friendly, favouring clean and renewable energy, biodiversity and waste recovery.

It bans investments in funds even indirectly associated with pornography, gambling, weapons and defence industries, pro-abortion health centres and laboratories or pharmaceutical companies that make contraceptive products or work with embryonic stem cells.

The IPS frowns on speculative investments in commodities, oil, mining, nuclear energy and alcoholic drinks.

ORDER TO DISINVEST

It says investments in complex financial and structured products should be avoided as well as in those that include short selling and day trading.

Investment decisions should also include a “governance factor”, favouring companies with codes of ethics and transparent, prudent and fiscally responsible management.

Vatican departments should disinvest from investments not conforming with the policy and liquidate holdings with ethical problems quickly.

The Investment Committee will authorise portfolio managers.

“It is important that portfolio managers be professionals with good reputations with known financial institutions and not just someone’s friend,” the Vatican official said.

Many Vatican financial scandals in the past have stemmed from an abundance of trust in financial managers, almost always Italians, who were friends of Vatican officials.

Discussing finances in an exclusive interview with Reuters this month, Pope Francis gave the example of priests who had no financial experience being asked to manage the finances of a department and who in good faith sought outside help from friends in the outside financial sector.

“But sometimes the friends were not The Blessed Imelda,” the pope said, referring to a 14th century 11-year-old Italian girl who is a symbol of childhood purity. Francis blamed “the irresponsibility of the structure” for past financial scandals.

The Vatican official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said there would no longer be investments in private equity funds. The Secretariat of State once invested in a private equity fund, that in turn made investments that conservative Catholics considered unethical.

($1 = 0.9745 euros)

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

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