I am not Catholic, but I was fascinated by the recent papal selection process. I found it particularly interesting that Pope Francis paid for his own room as he checked out of the cardinals' hotel after his selection. But this made me wonder how the pope is paid. I have read nothing to indicate that he earns any salary. So, how would he pay for his hotel room? How much salary does he receive? For that matter, what are cardinals paid? -- Dale, of O'Fallon
Asking such a revered man of God about how many euros he pulls in is apparently so crass that not even Vatican leaders sometimes know.
When he was asked that very question by an American reporter in 2001, Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani sent the papal p.r. people into a tizzy when he said he was unaware of a papal salary -- but that, if it existed, it would be "normal."
Now, if anyone should have known, it would have been Sebastiani, who, at the time, was the president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. But the very next day, the Vatican issued a statement declaring once and for all "the Pope has not received, and has never received, a salary."
"Appropriate Vatican organizations provide for the needs of the Holy Father," the Vatican said. "The pope has the resources of the Holy See at his disposal. He can take out as much as he needs to carry out his mission and his duties."
In other words, as pope, he can pretty much take whatever he needs out of the Vatican cookie jar whenever he needs it. But, the Vatican stresses, any personal gifts you make to the pope won't fund any extravagant gelato habit.
"All donations received by the pope are allocated to the needs of the Church, respecting the intention of the donor, when stipulated. The donations are managed according to absolutely transparent criteria.
"The Holy See annually publishes a complete financial report, which includes the expenses of the Pontifical Household. Gifts that come to the pope from heads of state around the world and similar gifts go the Vatican Museums, where they are often on display for the public to view."
Even in death, the church remains uppermost in a pope's mind, the Holy See assures its flock.
"All the recent popes, on the occasion of their deaths, have left everything they personally owned to the Holy See, with the exception of some little gifts that Pope Paul VI left to his personal secretary and to some of his close relatives."
If Pope Francis ever did want a regular check, he might consider retiring like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. According to a recent story in the Italian paper La Stampa, Benedict now receives a pension of $3,350 a month. That's apparently half of what a retired cardinal gets, but it could double if Pope Francis bestows on him the title of emeritus cardinal, the paper said.
For the record, when Benedict stepped down, he took with him only personal effects and gifts, his piano, cats and private letters. Everything else, including books and furniture, remained at the Vatican, according to the paper.
As for cardinals, those who work in the Vatican receive a salary of about $6,000 a month, John Allen, the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, told me.
"For those in archdioceses -- as the current pope was prior to his election -- they usually get a modest stipend out of the archdiocesan budget," he said.
The taxman cometh: For the man fretting about his Social Security benefits, I unfortunately must add an asterisk to my recent answer.
It is true that once he turned 66, he could apply for full benefits and still earn as much as he wants without a direct penalty. But I was remiss for not mentioning that those benefits can be subject to income tax.
Current rules say that if you are filing as an individual, 50 percent of your benefits can be taxed if your earn $25,000-$34,000 and 85 percent after that. If you file jointly, those limits go up to $32,000-$44,000. (For more details, go to http://www.ssa.gov/planners/taxes.htm)
Either way, it's much less than the 50 percent off-the-top penalty the man would have faced for drawing his benefits early. My thanks to faithful reader Ken Williams, of Swansea, for his alert tip.
Back to Bach: Don't forget: The Radio Arts Foundation-St. Louis' new classical music station will hit the airwaves officially at 10 a.m. Monday.
I plan to be at the opening ceremonies, but you can enjoy the longhair sounds at 107.3-FM (within a 20-mile radius), 96.3-HD2 on your high-def radio or rafstl.org on your computer.
When was the Jules Rimet trophy last awarded?
Answer to Thursday's trivia: In 1988, German tennis superstar Steffi Graf became the first -- and, so far, only -- person to earn a so-called Golden Slam by winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Seoul along with championships at all four of the sport's major tournaments that year. Fifteen other players have earned "career golden slams" for winning all of those awards during their lifetime, but not in the same year.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.