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Vatican shrugs off apocalypse, fiddles with accounts dept

Pope's astronomer hints at truth hidden in Google

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The Vatican has shrugged off predictions of the world ending this Friday, deciding instead to overhaul its accounting department.

This will ensure a gradual reduction in the cost of running the world's biggest Christian denomination - although if the Mayans are right and humanity is annihilated on 21 December then that cost will be reduced to something rather trivial anyway.

A substantial proportion of the world's more credulous are heading to southeast France, or the jungles of Guatemala, to sit out the upcoming end of the world, or spiritual renewal, depending on your point of view. Whether you opt for one or the other depends on whether you believe Star Wars or The Da Vinci Code is the piece of populist culture most likely to hint at the world's final hours.

However, the Vatican, arguably the global institution that has spent the last two millennia predicting the imminent end of the world and has a 2,000-year-old book on the topic, has pooh-poohed this imminent end of days.

Instead, the Holy See's Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has chosen this week to announce an overhaul of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs, which will deliver an increased "commitment to transparency and accuracy" in the administration of its assets.

The move should expand the prefecture's role, which had diminished into "a sort of central accounting house of the Holy See". Instead, it will now plan and coordinate economic activities, which is essential for the Church to remain self-sufficient, the cardinal said.

The back office reshuffle comes as the Vatican endures its own dose of austerity in line with much of the rest of the Western World. Bertone told the department he expected a "gradual, but effective, reduction of costs".

More ominously, it comes in the wake of the Vatican's own WikiLeaks-type scandal, which was seen as evidence of a power struggle within the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.

Lest anyone should think this rearrangement of the Vatican's earthly affairs has anything to do with the end of the world, it's worth remembering that Catholic central has been dissing the Mayan Apocalypse theory since it first popped out half-formed onto the internet.

Last week the director of the Vatican Observatory declared it was "not even worth discussing" the doomsday supposedly scheduled for this Friday.

Instead, Father Jose Gabriel Funes suggested the end of world may come about in some billions of years, due to the expansion of the universe, The Telegraph reports. He added that Christians believe "death can never have the last word".

Just to highlight the absurdity of the Mayan prediction, and its accompanying media-fanned hype, Funes pointed out that a search on Google pulled up 40 million results for the topic. Personally, we'd question using Google results as proof that something is real.

Today tapping in Mayan Apocalypse pulls up 103 million results. Expansion of the universe, by comparison, serves up just over 31 million. The Catholic Church gives you 145 million results.

We're pretty sure the Catholic Church does indeed exist, so on this basis, the Mayans are arguably more on the button than the physicists, and the Vatican Accounts department should probably put that reorganisation on hold until after Friday at least. ®

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