Valuable artworks in churches vulnerable to theft

The head of the Vatican’s police force has told members of Interpol that valuable artworks in Catholic churches are often poorly protected from thieves.

Domenico Giani, said many of these artworks are difficult to protect because they are in isolated church buildings where no anti-theft measures are employed, or in churches that are basically abandoned because religious practice has fallen off.

As for valuable artworks scattered among parishes and dioceses around the world, he said it is absolutely necessary that local Catholic authorities obey a 1999 Vatican directive that they make a complete inventory of their art, including detailed descriptions and high-quality photographs of each item.

Not only does an inventory offer the only hope for getting a lost item back, he said, it also ensures that local Catholic officials are aware of the items they have.

Giani was speaking at a general assembly of Interpol, which maintains a photo database of stolen art works. He said this makes the illicit trafficking of cultural goods much more difficult because potential buyers can see that they are stolen.

The Vatican police chief also spoke of “in countries where revolts are under way or there are internal struggles fed by a hatred so strong that people try to destroy anything that represents ‘the enemy”. In such places, he said, the conditions are ripe for the theft of religious art and its permanent loss.

Giani said the Vatican is “dense with artistic riches” and recognises its potential vulnerability as a target for art thieves because of the high value of its artworks. For this reason, it tries to keep up with the most modern anti-theft technology.


Catholic News Service


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