ROME — Pope Francis has put an end to the sale of papal blessings by shops in the area around St. Peter’s Square in order to make sure that proceeds from the sale of those blessings serve charitable purposes.
Roman shop owners have filed a protest, but the decision appears firm. As of January 2015, the scrolls will only be available through the office of papal charities, which produces the blessings.
The decision was announced in a letter by Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, who said Pope Francis wants to guarantee that all proceeds from the sale of blessings go to charity.
As almoner, Krajewski assists those in need in the name of the pope. The office had originally warned the shops that this change might be coming in 2010, under Pope Benedict XVI.
At the moment, the Vatican charges the stores $4 per scroll for the official stamp and license. The shops generally charge consumers between $13 and $65, and the price can go even higher if a blessing is fully handwritten.
While papal charities may stand to benefit from the pope’s decision, shop owners are facing the loss of an estimated $20,000 a month in income and have written Pope Francis to protest the decision. Most, however, seem resigned to the inevitable.
“There’s nothing to do,” said Fabio Batorelli from Mondo Cattolico. “If the pope says that from now on it’s done in the Vatican, what can I say? ‘Excuse Holy Father, but we wish you didn’t, we sustain our stores with this business’?”
Cristina Lombardi, from Galleria Aurora, told Crux that in truth, the Vatican has realized the scrolls are a business and has decided to “bring it back home.”
Krajewski’s letter reminds the shop owners that the original purpose of the sale of blessings was to generate funds for charity. He cites a decree from Pope Leo XIII, who reigned in the late 19th and early 20th century, who “delegated the Almoner to grant the Apostolic Blessing by parchment certificate … as a means of helping to fund the charitable works carried out by the Office.”
Shops, libraries and other institutions started selling the scrolls under official license in 1950. The Vatican asked them to do so since, working from a small office and without the aid of Internet, officials at the time found it impossible to provide the blessings to the ever-growing number of pilgrims visiting the Eternal City.
Since then, the blessings have become an industry. The estimated production cost averages $12, including the price of the scroll, the printing, the calligrapher and the $4 that the Vatican charges for the stamp and signature that make it official.
Under the current agreement, as Lombardi said, only the $4 charged by the Vatican goes to the poor.
From now on, the blessings will be available through the web site for the almoner’s office as well from a handful of cloistered monasteries that produce scrolls which are entirely handwritten.
The option of buying the blessing through official channels was available before, and was always the most economical, with a price ranging from $9 to $32.
Those who wish to do so can also get a papal blessing, which are often acquired to mark special occasions such as baptisms, First Communions, marriage anniversaries and the anniversary of priestly ordination, through the Vatican’s embassies around the world.