The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets: “ut Videamus”

Sep 16, 2020

To recognise the signs of the times and make discerning choices in terms of assets

Domine, ut videam. (Mark 10, 51) – Rabbi, I want to see. To see clearly and see beyond. I like to ask in this way. Obviously this is not a merely an “optical” ability but also an intellectual capacity. I want to interpret the signs of the times and your disegni to understand what everyone’s mission is within the Church you founded and established in Your Grace. In asking myself this, I also think of my academic and professional development in all these years.
Domine ut videam, ut videamus, ut videant. This is a request that the blind man made when he met Jesus: “I want to see”. The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets was created to see the signs of the times. I think it was essential to have an instrument that could help us see clearly and also to “see beyond” in the sector of ecclesiastical assets.

Why is this? Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor. This approach must not be seen as a nihilist pauperism which seeks to dispose of assets. Quite the opposite, it means that the vast holdings of movable and immovable assets, rights and resources that the People of God have donated to the Church and the legitimate proprietary bodies over time must be administered and managed in a suitable manner and in accordance with Book V of the Code of Canon Law. In particular, Canon 1254 states that these assets must serve proper purposes in terms of divine worship and everything which enables us to give glory to God through places of worship and liturgy; for the decent support of the clergy in the broadest terms to include dioceses, parishes, all members of religious congregations and finally works of charity within the vast scope of the tangible implementation of works of mercy. . I am referring to the boundless horizon of initiatives all over the world in school, educational, training, cultural, welfare, health and social-health sectors. The neediest, poorest and loneliest people have been welcomed through works of charity and assistance that have shown the extent of the Church’s mercy over the centuries. The response given to material, physical and spiritual poverty is impossible to enumerate or describe adequately in a few lines. Ultimately, the assets are intended to serve the mission of the Church: la salus animarum. Knowledge of the Truth is indeed a vehicle of universal salvation. The duty to respect these purposes means the management of ecclesiastical assets cannot ignore certain decisive and necessary factors.

We can simplify the focus of our reflection through the use of the three pillars.
The first is a detailed “Knowledge” of the purposes these assets are used and arranged for.
The second pillar concerns “Expertise” meaning interdisciplinarity between the multiple skills that are essential for correctly managing assets. Today, more than ever, strong legal, economic, managerial and technical expertise is required so that these assets can genuinely fulfill their purposes.The third pillar is “Collegiality”. Canon law and religious and ecclesiastical bodies are permeated by collegiality. However, in actual experiences, this pillar is not always correctly applied, thus resulting in personalism, clericalism, abuses of power and a lack of transparency, “double lives” and corruption. Child abuse and bad management of assets are the issues that create the most painful wounds in the People of God.

The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets was created as an independent instrument to prevent, in advance, and avoid all possible scandals relating to the management of assets, by promoting a positive culture that will build bridges and promote a dialogue while offering incentives for managing assets and any transformations in a healthy and transparent manner. Indeed, it is not correct to generically qualify ecclesiastical assets as assets belonging to the Catholic Church or even the Vatican.
The autonomy all religious and ecclesiastical bodies enjoy from a legal perspective, and in terms of their assets, recognises them as the legitimate owners of these assets. It is worth remembering once again that the code of Canon Law also provides for the concept of “stable property”: more than ever before, this is transforming because it is allocated to the mission.

Assets are increasingly “dynamic” because the mission of individual bodies is “dynamic”. The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets will deal with this with the utmost attention because there is a clear excess of real estate assets in old Europe (huge old schools, seminaries, convents, institutions) with extremely high management costs. If possible, these real estate assets should be leased out or otherwise sold and the resulting liquidity should be used to fund the aims of the respective bodies in other parts of the world, addressing new ways of fighting poverty or for covering expenses for supporting elderly brothers and sisters.
In any case, we cannot afford to simply improvise when it comes to these delicate issues or even worse leave them to individual decisions by cooperators without a multidisciplinary training. The management of these assets cannot be left to chance or personalisms and the spur of the moment decisions of administrators or individual professionals handling the assets as if they were their own property without considering the aims of the individual bodies. We are also fully aware that ecclesiastical assets and the aims they are geared towards go beyond the earthly existence of individuals.

The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets will highlight and emphasise the urgent need for a genuine asset management strategy. The approach can no longer be linked to a sterile concept of “conservation” and must rather embrace the dynamic quality of “management” if it is to rise to the challenges of every era.
It will also be extremely important to involve competent laypersons. Pope Francis himself has called on the service of the lay faithful in the various departments of the Roman Curia for financial and asset management-related matters. It will also be essential to receive the contribution of women in financial and asset management issues pertaining to the Church. Indeed, the Holy Father has recently appointed extremely competent women with international expertise, thereby providing a shining example of the concept of universality which is part of the essence of Catholicism.
Having a poor Church for the poor does not mean freezing everything the church owns and it certainly does not mean wasting centuries of history, tradition and the generosity of countless people. The Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets will create an asset management culture and promote the three pillars. Knowledge, Expertise in management and Collegiality. This will be done for the aims of individual religious and ecclesiastical bodies but especially for the Church’s mission of new evangelization with a broad, universal scope based on the “joint responsibility of laypersons in the mission of the Church” as established by the Second Vatican Council in the Lumen Gentium.

In 2000 I wrote an essay on canon law of property for which I chose the title “Integrated asset management for the institutional aims of the Church: the contribution of laypersons to apostolic initiatives in the Church”. Twenty years ago this may have been premature but nowadays this specific sensibility has become a requirement and I decided to found the Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets precisely to contribute to the creation of a correct asset management approach which, together with the pontifical universities and the professionals and administrators of the bodies, can set out a positive blueprint for pursuing the good of the Church in a more effective manner with a renewed spirit of service.

Mr Antonio Sanchez Fraga

Founder of the Permanent Observatory on Ecclesiastical Assets
Economist, graduate in Canon law with a Master and specific Training in the Management of Ecclesiastical assets.