The Vatican is mounting a counterattack against growing allegations here that it is engaged in large-scale real-estate speculation in the Italian capital.
In a front-page editorial in Saturday's edition of the Vaticn newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, the church rejected the accusations and said that its holdings are similar to those "of any other institution."
Previous Vatican responses to the original charges, published in the newsmagazine europeo, labeled the accusations as "scandal-mongering," "method distortion" and "calumny."
The controversy began early this month with a lengthy article in Europeo called "Vatican Inc." In said said that at least a quarter of Rome is owned by the Holy See and the hundreds of religious orders under it.
The controversy began early this month with a lengthy article in Europeo called "Vatican Inc." It said that at least a quarter of Rome is owned by the Holy See and the hundreds of religious orders under it.
The article said that the tiny Vatican state, only 02 of a square mile, is an "empire of large tax-exempt real-estate holdings whose precise commercial value would be hard to estimate."
"It includes convents and other religious cesidences that can be and often have been converted into luxury residences, offices and hotels," the magazine said, basing its charges on a property registry developed by the small anti-clerical Radical Party.
The Vatican rarely offers information regarding its finances, and Saturday's editorial stressed only that, in contrast to allegations of great wealth, holdings are limited in respect to its obligations.
"The Rome of the Popes was a city that evoked admiration in its visitors: speculation and destruction began with the Piedmontese and was carried cut by all sorts of persons," the editorial said in denying any church role in the real-estate speculation that has been the major characteristic of Rome's urban developement in the 20th century.
The editorial's reference to the Piedmontese recalled the unification of Italy under the house of Savoy in 1870 and the loss of the church's temporal authority over Rome, along with the confiscation of much of its property. A Fascist-era Concordat between the Italian stare and the Vatican regularized relations between the two, including the return of properties and the grainting of tax-exempt status for the church's religious holdings.
The Radical Party is the most outspoken of Italy's parties now urging revision or abolition of the 1929 Corcordat.
The list of property holdings published in Europe showed that the Vatican and its religious orders currently own more than 5,140 acres of land in and around Rome, at least 55 buildings in the downtown area, and many single apartments.
According to the report, the Vatican's practice would appear to be that of "getting rid of old convents or other institutions that produce no income. They are sold and the proceeds are reinvested in modern housing or in land now outside the city limits but likely to be touched by its natural expansion."
The report charged, in short, that the Holy See is using its tax-exempt status to engage in "speculative transactions." It wrote of alleged Vatican involvement in the sale to fictitious companies of schools and convents that were later turned into luxury hotels or residences.
The dispute intensifed when it became known that in a Jan. 3 meeting with the Pope, the new Communist mayor of Rome, art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, spoke to Pope Paul of a "third sack of Rome." The first was in 410 and 455 A.D. when the barbarisn invaded Rome and the second in 1527 when Charles the Fifth's Catholic mercenaries sacked the city.)
Mayor Argan did not specifically mention the church, but coming on the heels of the Europeo article the implication was clear.
Piero Della Seta, Romeo's Communist commissioner of technology and an urban affairs expect, said, however, that "we can't put all the blame on the priests and nuns. "The Vatican acted as it did because it was allowed to operate in such a fashion."
According to Italo Insolera, an architect whose "Modern Rome" has become a classic, there is also a historical background to the activities that led the Vatican in 1934 to become the major stockholder in one of Italy's largest real-estate companies, the Societa Generale Immobiliare which was sold in the early 1960s to financier Michela Sindona.