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Pope Francis leads a Christmas audience in the Clementina hall at the VaticanReuters

When Pope Francis was elected he promised to make the Catholic Church a "poor church for the poor", eschewing expensive perks and - allegedly - driving round the Vatican in a Ford Focus.

"It hurts my heart when I see a priest with the latest model car," the Pope told trainee priests. "If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world."

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini donated millions to the Catholic Church which it invested in property.Wikipedia

Yet 2,000 years of accumulating wealth and making canny investments means the "poor" church is actually sitting on vast wealth in securities, property, works of art and other assets.

A report in Italy's L'Espresso claims the Vatican is worth €9-10 billion (£7-8 billion). London assets include shops on New Bond Street including the jewellers Bulgari and a property in St James's Square.

Other international assets – funded by a huge donation by Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as a thank you for recognising his regime – include places in Switzerland and a home belonging to former French President Francois Mitterrand.

Even the figure of €9-10 billion is believed to be an under-estimate – the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples is said to have holdings of €7 billion.

In recent years, the church has paid out vast amounts in compensation to child sex abuse victims, including $2.5 billion in the US alone.

In a startling recent admission, Pope Francis said one priest in 50 may be a paedophile.

He has called for "reparations" for victims of abuse, but they might not necessarily be financial.

Earlier this month Pope Francis became the first Pontiff to meet victims of sexual abuse inside the Vatican, saying: "I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons."