Q: How many people work at the Vatican?

A: About half of them.

Ba-da-boom! Only that rimshot was reportedly delivered by Pope John XXIII himself. Though I’ve never found the citation, it is–as we say at the tabloids–too good to check out. And it sounds like Pope John. It also sounds like the Vatican I knew when I worked there in the 1980s–and why should it change now?

Well, somebody up there is trying. Last month, RNS reported that the Vatican was raising the retirement age by two years. Starting January 1, 2010, “newly hired lay staff will retire at 67 instead of 65, while newly hired members of religious orders and priests (below the rank of bishop) will retire at 72 instead of 70.” There is no change for bishops and cardinals working at the Vatican, who can retire at age 75, though they often continue beyond that.

This isn’t some German efficiency push by Der Papst Benedikt XVI–just the stupid economy.

“Even the Vatican is feeling the crisis and we need to be careful about spending like everyone these days,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office. “Austerity budgets are required to survive,” he added.

And it’s what the U.S. needs to do, but which pol will sacrifice his or her career to deliver the news?

On the other hand, the Vatican is just now getting around to actually clocking the hours that Vatican workers work–and it isn’t pretty.

As the Italian news agency, ANSA, reported, the Vatican last October issued swipe cards to  all employees “from the lowest office staff to the grandest heads of departments — even if they are priests or bishops.” That’s the first time they’ve been required to record their hours since the practice was abolished in the 1960s by–yes, “Good” Pope John.

“According to reports out of the Vatican, elder clerics are complaining that clocking in and out is a headache when they have to leave the office on twice-weekly pastoral duty. The timekeeping scheme is part of a new meritocracy drive at the Vatican, which is set to introduce performance-related pay next year.”

That would be this year, 2009. The “elderly clerics” may have a point. But the Jesuits who run Vatican Radio had us lay folk on a punch-in time card way back when. Not that one couldn’t get around that. Not that I ever did… 

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