Cardinals discard the red and go into black

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VATICAN CITY (Reuter) - The Vatican, long secretive about money, said yesterday it had made a budget surplus of dollars 1.5m ( pounds 1m) in 1993 after 23 years of deficits.

Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the watchdog Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, said the accounts had been certified by outside auditors and were the most open and detailed the Vatican had compiled.

The statement showed expenditure of dollars 167.5m against income of dollars 169m, mainly from investments, property holdings in Italy and contributions from Roman Catholics. Cardinal Szoka said it was the first time since the Holy See began publishing a budget in 1970 that there had not been a deficit. The annual deficit reached a peak of dollars 87.5m in 1991.

He said the Vatican's artistic treasures, such as Michelangelo's Pieta, were a common heritage that the church looked after for the enjoyment of all.

'How can you put a price on it? They are not there for commercial purposes,' he said.

The Holy See's budget covers the Catholic Church's central administration and diplomatic missions as well as Vatican Radio, the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano and the Vatican's printing and publishing houses. It does not include the Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works.