The Vatican’s big red book

VATICAN CITY — The Annuario Pontificio is the Vatican’s bureaucratic bible. It lists every diocese and bishop in the world, all Roman Curia offices and their personnel, the diplomatic corps at the Holy See, the world’s religious orders, pontifical academies and universities, a statistical summary and much, much more.

This year’s Annuario weighed in at 3 pounds and 2,511 pages, another record. At 67 euros ($105), it’s not cheap. But for those keeping tabs on the church’s organizational life, it’s an indispensable tool. The problem is that the content is ever-changing.

Already this year, the Vatican has issued 26 pages of Annuario updates — new appointments, retirements, deaths, creation of ecclesial territories and even new phone numbers and email addresses.  At the CNS Rome bureau, someone has to enter each bit of information by hand in the big red book. What makes it especially painstaking is that you have to write really, really small, because there’s not much white space on the page.

Relief may be on the way. The other day I phoned Msgr. Vittorio Formenti, head of the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics (p. 1,294 in your Annuario) and asked him why they haven’t made the whole thing available electronically. As it turns out, Vatican higher-ups have been working on such a project since 1997 and, after a meeting in mid-April, are very close to making it happen.

Msgr. Formenti assured me that his office has had the technical means to offer an electronic version for some time. But he said the project also includes a proposal to offer searchable archived material — a major undertaking, since the Annuario Pontificio has been in print since 1839. The Vatican has to decide which office handles the additional work load, which server hosts the programs, how much to charge and how much historical information to include.

Msgr. Formenti said he expects the online version to be up and running by next year. Knowing how slowly carefully the Vatican proceeds when it comes to the Internet, I think that may be optimistic. Meanwhile, if they come out with a beta version, CNS will gladly volunteer to test it.

One Response

  1. The Annuario is a wonderful resource. It helps to have taken five years of Latin in high school and college to be able to read it. Love your comment about how … “carefully” the Vatican proceeds on the internet. I’d rather have an electronic version, too. But the Red book makes a lovely paperweight as well.
    – C Gunty, Florida Catholic

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