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Vatican reports it's nearly $19 million in the red

If you were seeking confirmation that the current economic crisis really is evil, look no further than the Holy See.

The Vatican reported on Thursday that its tiny state wasn't spared by the global economic downfall. With its budget deficit hitting $19 million, 2011 was one of the Holy See's worst financial years on record.

With lines for entering Vatican museums and Saint Peter's Basilica consistently as long as the Vatican wall, last year alone tickets for attractions like the Sistine Chapel filled the Vatican's coffers with more than $90 million. If to that you add the almost $70 million the pope received in charitable donations, it's difficult to believe that the smallest state in the world, with its 0.2-square-miles territory, could ever go in the red.

But it turns out the Vatican's assets can be a mixed blessing.

Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images file

St. Peter's Basilica is visited by Vatican tourists.

The sheer cost of employing almost 3,000 people to run the Vatican, its radio and newspaper services, plus the especially bad real estate market affecting some of Italy's most prestigious palazzos owned by the Vatican, mean it spent more, much more, than it earned.

While the budget deficit is one of the worst ever recorded, it certainly is not the first time the Vatican’s balance sheet has looked as red as a cardinal’s hat.

In 2010 the Holy See posted a $12 million surplus, but in 2009 it ran a deficit of about $5 million. In 2008 it did a bit better, by closing the year in the minus by a little more than a $1 million, but that came after it ran a budget deficit of more than $10 million in 2007.

But there is no need for the Holy See's employees to pray to keep their jobs.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See’s spokesperson, said that “a call was made for prudence and limiting costs, though while maintaining jobs.” Nobody at the Vatican, it seems, is going to get fired. Instead they'll take a closer look at where they can find savings.

Once again, the devil is in the details.

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