“What’s the mood like? It’s one of real fear,” said a Vatican official speaking about plans drawn up by the Holy See to cut staff.
On February 13, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a letter to all Vatican department heads, notifying them of an immediate end to new hires, wage increases, and overtime in an urgent effort to cut costs and offset budget shortfalls.
The instructions, drawn up by the Vatican’s central accounting office and a council of cardinals, also determined that volunteers could be used to help provide for any labor shortages. Employment contracts vary according to department but some temporary workers will not have their contracts renewed when their terms are up, according to the letter.
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Around 300 Vatican staff are on temporary or fixed-term contracts subject to renewal, the Vatican says. Some have had this working arrangement more than 20 years (the Vatican often flouts a statutory five-year limit on such contracts) and have families to support. Many of them are expats living in Rome, and on salaries not much higher than Italy’s minimum wage.
The Pope’s decision to hire four large management consultancies to increase efficiency has only increased fears. Officials are also angry because the costs of these consultants aren’t officially known (one fee is said to be over 10 million euros, according to the Church website Korazym).
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, who is also in charge of Vatican Radio with over 400 staff, is seeking to allay fears, stressing that although sacrifices have to be made, any cuts will strive to avoid “serious damage.”
“Certainly the Pope doesn’t want people to be ‘laid off’ with serious consequent problems for them and their families,” he told Newsmax. “The letter is presented as a transitional provision (“pending further decision”), and in many places contains expressions that give space for a reasonable assessment of the various situations,” he said.
The majority of those on fixed-term contracts “cannot be eliminated without causing serious damage to the services these entities provide,” he said, so their contracts won’t be suspended once their term has expired. But those of a “clearly temporary nature,” such as those brought in to cover maternity leave, are different and would in any case not have been renewed, he added.
The Vatican is keen that staff realize the seriousness of the situation but also that it is being handled with “responsibility and care for the people involved.” It’s especially cautious given that the Pope has frequently decried unemployment, saying in his 2014 Lenten message that it can lead to destitution and suicide.
But many believe the situation could be handled better. “Everything is cuts, cuts, cuts,” said one official. “Not once have they talked about how we could raise revenue.”
A senior official in the Secretary of State, the main executive branch of the Holy See, told Newsmax they’re so understaffed and overworked that some work “simply never gets done.”
Frequently one hears of “socialistic attitudes” prevailing in the Vatican: an aversion to generating revenue or profit, or jealousy when such initiatives succeed. And yet the possibilities for raising funds appear endless: Some have proposed a fundraising office for the Holy See, but it’s apparently ruled out because it would appear “crass.”
Other suggestions include offering visitors the chance to purchase a souvenir stamp in their passport saying they’ve been to Vatican City State; selling commemorative postage stamps to help keep the Vatican working (this was used to help make up a shortfall in restoration to St. Peter’s colonnade); or licensing the sale of any merchandise connected with the Pope and the Vatican.
Many believe such an approach would be a more Christian response to the crisis than the possible staff cuts. “You don’t lay off someone who’s worked at the Vatican for over 20 years and who’s a single mother because her job might be superfluous,” said one insider. “That goes against the Church’s doctrine.”
The staff also complain that the Vatican’s union, ADLV, is ineffective. The organization is opposed to public demonstrations or strikes, but has suggested staff write letters to the Pope instead (although the letters have to be in open envelopes, to make sure they are “appropriate”).
Some are putting hope in Cardinal George Pell, the new head of the Vatican’s finances, who is known to have business acumen and common sense. Others fear he will favor more cuts.
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In the meantime, staff remain nervous, and have been since Francis was elected pledging a Church “of the poor for the poor” and denying them their usual bonus on the election of a new pontiff.
Any future cuts, they hope, will be handled with the due diligence and fairness that’s been promised.
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