Vatican's Tales of the Profits

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VATICAN CITY: The Catholic Church has always depended on the kindness of believers, but after 23 straight money-losing years it took a good money manager to get the religious business booming again. The Vatican said Tuesday that it was in the black for the fifth straight year, ending 1997 with a surplus of nearly $11 million. Thank God? No, thank Edmund Szoka, a former archbishop of Detroit who took charge of the Vatican's finances in 1990 and who has made the Church's finances increasingly visible to laymen's eyes.

"The Catholic Church has learned a big Protestant lesson on money," says TIME religion correspondent Richard Ostling. "If you're more open about reporting and make your needs known, people -- especially in the capitalist West, where the big money comes from -- are more willing to respond with donations." The benefits of Szoka's savvy are just in time for the very expensive Great Jubilee, a kind of year-long millennial Mardi Gras that the Vatican will be throwing worldwide just two Januarys hence. As Ostling reminds, most of the Vatican's incalculable riches are tied up in high-maintenance, nonconvertible assets like, say, the Sistine Chapel. So please -- when in Rome, use a coaster.