Press Release: Render Unto Rome by Jason Berry


Tara Gilbride, Crown Publishing Group










Renowned investigative journalist Jason Berry explores the financial impact of the

sex abuse crisis, showing how bishops have deceived parishioners in “a national fire sale” of churches, while Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, was a pivotal player in a scheme to profiteer off U.S. church sales.



The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church

By Jason Berry

The acclaimed author of Lead Us Not into Temptation

Crown, on-sale June 7, 2011



Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown; 6/7/11) is a landmark book that examines the church’s financial underpinnings and practices. In a riveting narrative with extensive footnotes, Jason Berry uncovers an astonishing lack of accountability for the billions of dollars that run through the Catholic Church each year. Berry likens the church financial system to medieval fiefdoms where few dioceses subject their finances to robust auditing, where parishioners have little knowledge or say in how bishops control the use of their contributions. Safeguards on Sunday collections are so haphazard, reports Berry, that approximately $2 billion have been lost since 1965 to embezzlements from priests and lay workers.


Berry, a Catholic, praises the church as one of the great engines of charity in American history, yet insists that it must bear scrutiny. With $2 billion in the U.S. having been paid to clergy abuse victims, and for treatment of priests in mental hospitals, bishops are selling off whole pieces of the infrastructure—churches, schools, and commercial properties. How are these decisions made? Seldom is anyone beyond the circle of a bishop and his close advisors aware of how assets are liquidated, and the Vatican’s role in such decisions.


Berry trains a lens on the Vatican legal system, following property and financial decisions that link major American bishops and officials in Rome. Among the author’s most striking revelations:


Charitable donations to Vatican have long been used to plug deficit. Every June, Catholic parishes take the Peter’s Pence collection, a donation advertised exclusively for the pope and his charitable uses. In 2009, Peter’s Pence pulled in $82.5 million from parishes in the developed world. The Vatican has publicly accounted for less than 11% of those funds. For most of its recent history, Peter’s Pence donations have gone to plug the Vatican operating deficit. 


American churches closing at record rate. The Catholic Church in America is undergoing the largest downsizing in its history. Since 1995, the bishops have closed 1373 churches, on average one per week in the last fifteen years. Demographic changes lie behind much of this; but in Boston and Springfield, Mass., Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, Allentown and Scranton in Pennsylvania, and New Orleans, bishops have used church closures as a means to cover financial losses. 


Vatican cardinal in profiteering scheme off American church sales. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano helped his nephew target shuttered U.S. churches in a plan to buy-low, sell-high. The profiteering scheme used information from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, the Vatican office that must approve the sale or liquidation of church assets above a certain value.


In 2003, Sodano and other cardinals gave carte blanche to Boston’s new archbishop, Sean O’Malley, to close-and-sell churches to fund lawsuit settlements and fill a deep deficit. The nephew, Andrea Sodano, a building engineer was vice-president of a business in New York led Raffaello Follieri. Berry reports that Cardinal Sodano installed Monsignor Giovanni Carrù as under secretary at Congregation for the Clergy. Follieri paid Carrù to feed information on church properties. Andrea Sodano’s office in Italy received $800,000 for services that the FBI later deemed worthless.

An FBI agent calls nephew Andrea Sodano, Carrù and a layman who worked at the Vatican “unindicted coconspirators” in the fraud and money-laundering case that sent Follieri to federal prison. Follieri sent at least $387,000 through the Vatican Bank, raising new questions about the bank’s history of money-laundering.                 

Vatican Bank is off-the-books…with $30 million impounded The Holy See’s annual financial statement values St. Peter’s Basilica at 1 euro. The Vatican Bank—from which Italian authorities recently impounded $30 million for suspected money laundering in European cases—is “off the books,” not listed on the financial statement. The bank is suspected of functioning as a tax haven for privileged account holders.  


Sodano protected notorious pedophile. In 1998 Cardinal Sodano pressured then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to halt a canon law prosecution of Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel, a priest long trailed by pedophilia accusations. Berry reports that Sodano received at least $15,000 from Maciel in gifts and that the Legion paid his nephew for building work despite internal disputes over its quality.  

In 2006 Benedict banished Maciel from active ministry. In a move without precedent in modern history, the Vatican took control of Maciel’s religious order. Sodano, who retired as Secretary of State, derided the abuse crisis as “petty gossip” in a sermon on Easter 2010.


“To let the likes of Cardinal Sodano simply age and slip away is a passive sign that justice is a ritual of half measures,” writes Berry. “The pope cannot be an authentic voice for peace, affirm the dignity of human life, and preach the values of a greener planet if people see that Vatican justice is a farce.”


Jason Berry produces documentaries and writes on culture and politics for a variety of  publications. He achieved national prominence for his reporting on the Catholic Church crisis in Lead Us Not Into Temptation (1992). His nine books include Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, written with Gerald Renner (2004). The film version Berry produced has aired in Ireland, Spain, and Italy. Among his other works: Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II, the novel Last of the Red Hot Poppas, and Earl Long in Purgatory, which won a 2002 Big Easy award for Best Original Work in Theatre.

Jason Berry has received a Guggenheim Fellowship for jazz research, an Alicia Patterson Fellowship for reporting on Louisiana demagogues, and the 2010 Moses Berkman Memorial Journalism Award from Trinity College, Hartford, for “qualities of integrity, insight and serious moral purpose.”          

He has been widely interviewed in the national media, with appearances on Nightline, Oprah, NBC and CNN. USA Today called Berry “the rare investigative reporter whose scholarship, compassion and ability to write with the poetic power of Robert Penn Warren are in perfect balance.” He has written for The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Nation and Reader’s Digest.


“If you are an entrenched member of the hierarchy, you are not going to like this book. If you are a Catholic who believes that truth will lead to change—and that the Vatican needs to change, and change fast—Render unto Rome

is your catechism.”

—James Carville, political contributor for CNN 



Also available as an eBook

For more information, see




By Jason Berry

June, 7, 2011 * Crown  * $25.00 * Hardcover * ISBN: 978-0-385-53132-0

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