German Catholic archdiocese reveals it's richer than Vatican

PARIS, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Cologne in Germany has disclosed it is worth 3.35 billion euros ($3.82 billion), making it richer than the Vatican.

Publication of the first full report of its wealth reflects greater financial transparency within the German Church since Pope Francis removed a bishop in Limburg, near Frankfurt, last year for spending 31 million euros from secret funds on a new luxury residence.

Also pressed by the pope to reform its finances, the Vatican has consolidated the various - and sometimes hidden - accounts of its many departments and found it has assets of about $3 billion (2.64 billion euros), Cardinal George Pell, the Holy See’s secretary for the economy, said last week.

Announcing their report on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten period of self-denial and reflection, Cologne church officials stressed the extensive holdings helped care for 2 million Catholics, 60,000 staff and 1,200 churches and chapels.

“The archdiocese doesn’t sell products or earn profits from its services, so it has to finance itself mostly from its assets,” said financial director Hermann Schon.

Germany’s Catholic and Protestant churches benefit from a church tax imposed on all their members. The report said Cologne reaped 573 million euros from the tax in 2013 and spent over half of that on pastoral and charity work.

German dioceses had traditionally published their annual operating budgets, but not a full balance sheet.

Cologne, the country’s largest diocese, had a 2012 operating budget of 939 million euros. Its 2013 balance sheet, drawn up under guidelines for large German companies and approved by an independent auditor, showed its assets at 3.35 billion.

Its landmark Gothic cathedral along the Rhine is listed as being worth only 27 euros - one euro for each of the 26 land parcels beneath it and one euro for the priceless building. (Reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by John Stonestreet)