Vatican back in the black as Greece counts $17.4bn aid blessing

Godsend financial news emerged on two fronts Saturday — the Vatican announced it had finally squared its books after three consecutive years in the red, while euro zone finance ministers approved the latest tranche of emergency aid to debt-hit Greece.

The Vatican’s annual financial report charts a profit of $14.3 million in 2010 following a $5.8 million loss the previous year. The Holy See’s accounts were also in the red during 2007 and 2008.

However, the AP reports that with donations from the global faithful plummeting $22 million, or 18 percent, amid tough economic times and a damaging sex abuse scandal.

The scandal erupted last year in Europe - traditionally a top source of donations after the US - prompting tens of thousands of people to leave the Catholic Church in response to reports that priests sexually abused thousands of young people and bishops covered up the crimes.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the AP that the main reason behind the drop in donations came down to the lingering effects of the financial crisis on Catholics' ability to donate, and the fact that two donations of a few million dollars apiece from individuals in 2009 weren't repeated in 2010.

Most of the Vatican’s outlay, the BBC reports, is to cover the activities of Pope Benedict XVI, and services such as Vatican Radio, broadcast on five continents in 40 different languages.

The Vatican — the smallest independent state in the world — has published annual financial reports since 1981, when Pope John Paul II ordered financial disclosure as part of his efforts to debunk the idea that the Vatican is rich.

In other news, a two-hour conference call by euro zone finance ministers on Saturday has cleared the way for Greece to receive urgent funds to avoid imminent bankruptcy, AFP reports.

The ministers agreed to release $17.4 billion — the fifth tranche of Greece's $159.6 billion bailout — by July 15, pending International Monetary Fund (IMF) approval.

Al Jazeera reports that additional funds are also in the pipeline, with the IMF due to meet on July 8.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos welcomed the announcement, saying it "strengthened the country's international credibility."