ROME -- He has railed against the “tyranny” of global capitalism and the “idolatry of money” but even Pope Francis needs a little corporate coin sometimes – as proven by the list of sponsors for Sunday’s canonizations.
An oil and gas giant, several banks and Switzerland-based food megacorp Nestle are among more than a dozen financial backers of the Rome event.
Hundreds of thousands of people are due to come to the Eternal City to see Pope John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005, and Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff from 1958 to 1963, canonized as saints.
The list of sponsors is dominated by Italian corporations, including energy firms Eni and Enel, banking company Intesa SanPaolo and railway network Ferrovie Italiane.
It’s perhaps an unlikely roll call of names to be associated with a Vatican event, six months after Pope Francis launched an attack on the global economic system as part of his call for a greater focus on the needs of the world’s poor.
Read more: Inside the $8B Institution Where Nuns Answer the Phones
Those remarks were dismissed by radio host Rush Limbaugh as “pure Marxism” – an accusation that forced the pope to reassure conservative critics that he was not embarking on a political campaign.
"You can't pay bills with holy cards"
The Catholic Church sits upon enormous assets - the Vatican Bank manages $8 billion worth of worldwide investments as well as 33,000 accounts for clergy and parishes – but its governing body, the Holy See, made a loss of $18.4 million in 2011.
The presence of corporate sponsors might instead be explained by Rome’s perilous financial position. It faces a budget deficit of $1.17 billion and in February was turned down for a massive central government bailout to help it pay city employees and buy fuel for buses.
Father Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, said as such events brought income to businesses including hotels and restaurants it was "appropriate that they help."
He added: "As one archbishop told me, 'You can't pay bills with holy cards.' Having an event to which hundreds of thousands of people attend, is expensive. Better to get some corporate sponsors than to take money out of the poor box for it."
Alastair Jamieson reported from London.
First published April 26 2014, 9:37 AM