The recession continues to bite in Italy but at least one small business was all smiles at the weekend, with news that the Vatican had come shopping.
Gammarelli – tailors to the Pope since 1798 – began work on kitting out six newly-elected cardinals from the United States, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Lebanon and Colombia.
When a bishop is made a cardinal or "prince of the church", he ditches his violet-coloured garments for new red ones. But that's not all; the sixth generation Gammarellis – Massimiliano, Lorenzo and Stefano Paolo – were busy preparing a long list of the clothes and accessories the cardinals will need.
A pair of cassocks – one red and one black – costs around €1,500. Then there are red mozzetta hoods at €200 a pop; three-pointed hats at €100, zucchetto skull caps and special red socks, as well as a fascia or sash at €120.
While an order worth several thousand euros might mean a lot for a family business in the middle of a recession, the bill won't cause much concern at the Vatican. Proceeds have been falling of late as the number of the faithful dwindles, but the Catholic Church still has very deep pockets – underlined by the voluntary donations of £800m it receives from Italian taxpayers each year.
And there was good news for the Vatican earlier this month when it emerged that the Church would remain largely exempt from at least one form of taxation, the local Imu property tax, which will not now, it appears, be levied on places such as church-run hotels, hostels and clinics.
This €600m-a-year saving should cover as many cassocks and red socks as the Cardinals could wish for.
The new appointments are: James Harvey, the American head of the Papal Household; His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Raï, patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon; His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, head of the Syro-Mankar Church in India; Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja; Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines.
Pope Benedict said the new appointments were "a gesture of the Church's universality, in demonstration that the Church is the Church of all people, that it speaks all languages, that it is not the Church of one continent but the universal Church".
The diversity of the new group has been seen as a riposte to criticism that the last group of new cardinals to be selected, in February this year, were mostly European and from within the Vatican establishment. Of those 22 new cardinals, 16 were European, including seven Italians. Yesterday's appointments takes the total number of cardinals to 120. All six are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to enter a conclave that will one day choose Benedict's successor.Reuse content