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Vatican's cut-price nativity hits poorest Italian taxpayers

The economic crunch has hit Christmas at the Vatican this year, with a cut-price Nativity scene in St Peter's Square, even if the bill will be met by already hard-pushed Italian taxpayers.

Following the outrage that greeted claims the Vatican had spent €550,000 (£445,500) on the Nativity scene in 2009, the Holy See is keen to be seen spending its money more prudently – and scrupulously.

In what might be seen as cleaning out the Nativity stables, this year's scene costs €180,000 less than the already cheaper 2011 version. Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, a senior administrator at the Vatican city state, told reporters today the Holy See was spending just €22,000 on the cost of mounting the larger-than-life scene, which will be unveiled on 24 December.

But cardinals have ensured that someone other than the church is paying for the bulk of the expenses – those of transportation and construction for the 150 square-metre exhibit.

The church, which receives millions of euros from taxpayers' contributions, has allowed Italy's poorest region Basilicata to pick up €90,000 of the total €122,000 cost. The region has said that sponsors stumped up most of the sum.

One of the most damaging documents leaked during the Vatileaks scandal at the beginning of this year was a letter from Monsignor Sciacca's predecessor, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano complaining that the Vatican was losing millions of euros through corruption and unnecessary expenses.

All of this year's 100 or so near life-size terracotta statues were made in Basilicata.