Disgruntled Vatican Employees Pen Letter to Pope Francis

The letter, published by Italian media, contends employees are the victims of widespread workplace injustices.

The letter writers asked for a meeting with the Holy Father to discuss their concerns, according to the letter reported in Italian media.
The letter writers asked for a meeting with the Holy Father to discuss their concerns, according to the letter reported in Italian media. (photo: Unsplash)

VATICAN CITY — A group of Vatican employees has written a letter to Pope Francis, expressing their discontent over what they say are labor injustices at the Vatican and calling for an overhaul of a system that risks becoming increasingly “anti-meritocratic and disincentivizing.” 

The signatories, who have not supplied their names, also express “bitterness” over recent pay cuts and the way they were made and resent what they say are exceptionally high wages and perks given to “lay managers.”

The employees, who point to “the enormous critical issues that characterize the entire system and which causes it to waste a lot of money,” have asked for a meeting with the Holy Father to discuss their concerns, according to the letter reported in Italian media

Pope Francis issued a decree on March 24 that ordered cardinals to take a 10% pay cut and reduced the salaries of Vatican staff, mainly those who are clergy or religious, from 3% to 8% in order to save jobs — especially those of lay employees with families — in the face of a ballooning budget deficit heightened by the effects of COVID-19 restrictions and lost tourist revenue. 

The letter’s signatories credit the Pope for the “honorable purpose” of the pay cuts to “at least partially” cover the budget deficit, but express their “regret and profound discouragement” with the decree, adding that “an attentive reader cannot escape the inconsistencies that still persist in the Vatican and that make this provision too unbalanced to the detriment of honest workers.” They later add that they were “bitter” at not being consulted first. 

The employees also criticize other belt-tightening measures over the past eight years, including hiring freezes, suspension of promotions, the non-payment of overtime, and lost earnings due to the impossibility of “smart-working” during the lockdown. These have served to “only aggravate the working conditions of Vatican employees,” they write.

“We cannot fail, Your Holiness, to mention the concept of ‘just reward’ which is spoken of in the Gospel of Matthew,” they continue. “How much more will we have to sacrifice to pay for a budget deficit that certainly doesn’t derive from our wrongdoing?”

Vatican sources have told the Register that the concerns raised in the letter are shared by many in the Curia, and they add that those behind the initiative have most probably withheld their names for fear of retaliation.

The letter comes at a time of considerable low morale in the Vatican, caused by what some officials see as unfair personnel structures and a pervasive climate of fear. In a two-part Register investigation into Vatican management last September, officials spoke of a general culture of mismanagement that has helped foster corruption and called for significant managerial reforms. A retired Curial cardinal said the Curia is “characterized by a climate of depression.”

The letter’s signatories, who say they believe the current Curial system is incapable of profound change, express “great bitterness” that a proposal by the Council for the Economy to create a human resources department had “not been seriously considered.”

They were referring to such a proposal, which the Vatican announced in March 2020, only for it to be retracted three days later. The need for such a department is often mentioned by Vatican staff who feel deprived of their employment rights

“If we continue in this direction, Your Holiness, the system will become increasingly detrimental, anti-meritocratic and disincentivizing,” the letter’s authors continue. “According to the most elementary theories of occupational psychology, these strategies not only don’t pay off in the long-run in terms of motivation, personal satisfaction and production, but they boomerang in terms of performance.” 

They then highlight three critical areas that they believe need attention, the first being “unequal treatment,” whereby some dicasteries are continuing to hire and award overtime while others are abiding by an employment freeze introduced in 2014 and have kept employees “in the state they were hired several years earlier.” 

“Clear disparities in the treatment of employees within the same institution can no longer be tolerated,” they add.

The second area they highlight relates to privileges, specifically regarding lay managers whose contracts “arouse amazement” for their high salaries, some as much as €25,000 ($30,565 U.S.) a month. They add that these lay managers “can count on a number of exceptional benefits,” including rent-free Vatican-owned apartments located in the “most prestigious areas of Rome,” as well as “cars for private use, discounts on purchases, dedicated secretaries, and the reimbursement of various expenses.” 

They do not specify who these lay managers are, but informed Vatican sources told the Register May 20 that they are referring to lay consultants brought in as executives of such institutions as the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank), the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (the body which monitors financial malpractice in the Vatican), the Vatican’s auditor general’s office, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which manages the Holy See’s real estate and investments, and the Dicastery for Communication. 

They call for the “abolition” of such privileges and express their resentment that the recent pay cuts were “disproportionate” and excluded the wealthiest categories of staff. They urge “strict salary classification for lay managers within precise limits, consistent with the spirit of service and sacrifice to which you always appeal to us employees.” 

The third area of concern relates to the way the pay cuts announced in March were carried out and presented as a fait accompli. “Sacrificing oneself for the common good is fine, as long as it is done in proportion to an individual’s economic means and after solving the enormous critical issues that characterize the whole system and that cause it to waste a lot of money,” they write.

The letter’s authors conclude by calling for the creation of a “more encouraging and less punitive system for Vatican employees” through having a “serious reflection” on creating a human resources department and the “implementation of structural reform.”

The letter’s authors write in closing: “Certain of your understanding and allowing us to propose that a small delegation of us meet you, we avail ourselves of the opportunity to confirm a sense of deep esteem.” 

 

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