Report: Australia’s Church Leaders Were Unaware of $1.7 Billion Transferred From Vatican

The report by an Australian newspaper, which drew on documents from Australia’s financial crime regulator, did not detail where the money was dispersed.

The Australian Parliament House in Canberra
The Australian Parliament House in Canberra (photo: Patty Jansen / Pixabay)

ROME — The Vatican and its associated financial entities transferred a total of $1.7 billion (AUS $2.3 billion) to Australia since 2014 apparently without the knowledge of Church leaders in Australia, The Australian newspaper reported on Tuesday. 

The transfers increased from $54.1million in 2014 to $103.6 million in 2015 before doubling again to $223 million in 2016 and peaking at $439.3 million in 2017, The Australian disclosed.

The article drew on official documents from Austrac, Australia’s financial crime regulator, that had been shared with the Australian Senate.

The Australian added that more than $319 million was transferred in 2018, $371.7 million in 2019 and $222.7 million this financial year to date. The transfers were made in more than 400,000 transactions.

Despite the enormity of the total amount of the transfers, several senior Church leaders in Australia, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper they were surprised by the news and were unaware of the fund transfers. 

The figures also show some funds, about 5% of the total, could have been part of an annual fund for charities. But Austrac has not disclosed any recipients of the funds in Australia, and some Church sources said the transfers may have been Vatican investments in the Australian bond and equities market, The Australian reported.

The Australian Federal Police last week confirmed to The Australian it was continuing to investigate information it had received from Austrac about transfers to Australia from the Vatican. 

The timing of the fund transfers, and their increasing amounts, coincide with Australian Cardinal George Pell’s arrival as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, and his subsequent return to Australia in 2017 to face trial for sexual abuse charges.

The cardinal was tried in 2018, convicted and jailed in 2019 and then spent 404 days in jail before having all charges against him quashed by Australia’s High Court in April 2020. 

Allegations were made in the autumn that hundreds of thousands of euros were sent from the Secretariat of State to Australia around the time of Cardinal Pell’s trial. Sources have told the Register that documentation to back up allegations of suspicious Vatican-Australia bank transfers is now part of a Vatican tribunal investigating the matter, as well as other allegations of financial corruption.

The Australian asked the Holy See’s Press Office and the apostolic nunciature in Canberra for comment on the Austrac findings, but neither have responded. The Register also asked Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni on Tuesday about the matter but has yet to receive a reply. 

The details of the transfers came to light after a senator, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, asked the Australian government in October about allegations of such fund transfers. 

Fierravanti-Wells requested “full details of transactions” received from a “Vatican entity or individual,” details on how those funds were disbursed, and who received them, as well as “the date of the transaction, and the amount disbursed and any notation attached to that transfer.”

Responding to today’s disclosure, the senator told The Australian it was “a surprisingly large amount of money” and in light of ongoing Vatican finance scandals, it was important to “know where the money went.”

“It’s also worth noting that the transfers accelerated during the period Cardinal Pell was facing investigations in Australia and peaked when he was side-lined from financial control of the Vatican while facing charges and trial in Australia,” she said.