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    Vatican austerity means donated nativity scene

    VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has happily accepted a ­donated nativity scene for St. Peter’s Square this Christmas after a previous setup costing $717,000 was exposed by the embarrassing scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

    Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, the number two administrator of the Vatican city state, told reporters Thursday that the Vatican will pay for labor and costs to mount the scene that will be unveiled Dec. 24, hours before Pope Benedict XVI celebrates midnight Mass. The Italian region of Basilicata, one of Italy’s poorest, provided the scene after getting donations.

    At the press conference, the head of the Vatican Museums extolled the natural marvels of the southern region, urging tourists to visit, and Sciacca thanked Basilicata for its generosity.


    One of the most damaging documents leaked during the so-called Vatileaks scandal was a letter from Sciacca’s predecessor complaining that the Vatican was losing millions on corruption and expenses such as the 2009 nativity scene.

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    The predecessor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, boasted in an April 4, 2011, letter to Benedict that he had trimmed the cost for the 2010 edition. He was subsequently named the Vatican’s ambassador to Washington, a move he saw as punishment for having stepped on too many toes in his cost-cutting initiatives.

    Sciacca said that by accepting a donated scene this year, the Vatican is saving — and already had an offer for 2013.

    He denied the Vatican’s enthusiasm for donated scenes was a response to the Vigano letters, saying it was merely ‘‘good sense.’’

    ‘‘I hope there are other offers,’’ he said.


    In his recent book ‘‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,’’ Benedict noted that there is no biblical reference to animals in the manger at the time of Jesus’ birth. But Benedict concluded that ‘‘No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass.’’

    Vatican officials confirmed that this year’s nativity scene would indeed have ox and ass, as well as hens and sheep.