Pope Francis's economic adviser on Tuesday denied reports the Vatican was at risk of default, saying the allegations were part of a campaign to discredit the pontiff.
"To say that the Vatican is at danger of default is false," said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, who heads a group of six cardinals that advise Francis on economic reforms within the Catholic Church's governing body.
"It seems to me there is a discrediting strategy underway," he said in an interview with the Repubblica newspaper.
Maradiaga was reacting to allegations in a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who claims to have seen internal documents that show the Vatican's finances are in a dire state and the institution is "at risk of default".
"They want to undermine the pontificate: First by depicting a Church made up mainly of paedophiles, and now by showing economic negligence. But it's not true," Maradiaga said.
Nuzzi has made a name for himself by publishing a series of books on Vatican financial scandals. In his latest, published on Monday, he analyses the Vatican's books for 2018, showing them to be in the red and getting worse.
The book says APSA, a department of the Holy See which oversees real estate and investments, had a deficit of nearly 44m euros ($49m) in 2018, compared to 32m the previous year.
Nuzzi said the real estate portfolio was worth an estimated 2.7bn euros and was badly managed.
Some 800 properties were lying empty, he said, while 15% of the 3 200 rented properties were being let for free, and others were being rented out below market prices.
An internal report by the pope's advisors, quoted in the book, warns that the Vatican "deficit is recurrent and structural, and has reached worrying levels, with a risk of default if urgent action is not taken".
APSA head Bishop Nunzio Galantino also rebuffed the book's findings.
"There is neither backruptcy nor default," just a need for a savings plan "to contain expenses", he told the Avvenire daily.