Legend has it that tossing coins over your shoulder into Rome’s Trevi Fountain will ensure you someday make another trip to the city. Visitors are so keen to engage in the tradition that around $1.7 million in change is thrown into the 18th-century fountain every year. For many years that money has gone to a Catholic charity called Caritas, which aids the poor—and it will continue to do so, Rome’s mayor assured residents, after reports circulated that the city council intended to lay claim to the funds.
The confusion and controversy stemmed from a leaked document suggesting that the administration of Virginia Raggi, a populist politician who became Rome’s first female mayor in 2016, planned to use the money to bolster city infrastructure, according to ABC News.
Raggi has faced criticism in recent months for failing to improve conditions like overflowing garbage bins, gaping potholes and even exploding buses. In 2017, her administration floated the idea of diverting Trevi funds to the city, but the plan was delayed for a year after critics condemned it. At the end of December, Rome’s city council approved a proposal to use the money for infrastructure and monument maintenance. The mayor had called for a meeting on Tuesday to finalize how the money should be allocated.
But before that could happen, Avvenire, a publication affiliated with the Catholic Church, published an article charging the city’s bureaucracy taking “the coins of the poor” away from Caritas. According to Al Jazeera, the article detailed some of the ways in which Caritas has been using Trevi fountain funds since it began receiving them in 2001: it supports soup kitchens, a homeless center and other social assistance programs, for instance.
“We did not foresee this outcome,” Caritas director Father Benoni Ambarus told Avvenire, per a translation by the BBC. “I still hope it will not be final.”
The Catholic News Agency reports that Raggi subsequently told Italian media her administration “will never take away” funds from Caritas. Some claim she is “backtracking” on her original intentions, but Raggi asserted that the new plan only involved a change in the agency responsible for cleaning and counting the fountain’s coins. That job was previously performed by Caritas volunteers, but it will now be undertaken by ACEA, Rome’s utility company.
“On the issue of the coins, I confirm that they will continue to go to the charity,” Raggi said, according to the Catholic News Agency. “No one ever considered taking them away.”