VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Vatican is predicting a fifth straight year in the black in 1998, but just barely.

Contributions from local dioceses are critical to the recent turnaround of Vatican finances, and the cardinal who has overseen them gently chided tight-fisted dioceses on Tuesday.

Some have not begun to contribute, said Cardinal Edmund Szoka, a former Detroit archbishop, and others ``could increase their contributions.''

Szoka, who is leaving the Vatican finance job this year, refused to identify the laggards. But he cited churches in Germany, the United States and Italy as among the most generous.

Since 1992, when the cash-strapped Vatican invoked a canon law requiring the dioceses to chip in, contributions have tripled to around $19.4 million a year, he said.

The Vatican showed its first budget surplus in 1993 after years of deficit spending.

The projected 1998 surplus presented is small _ around $563,000 _ and Szoka emphasized the need for ``constant vigilance over expenses.''

The operations of the Holy See, which employs 2,400 people, and Vatican Radio continue to be the biggest drains, while real estate and investments are both expected to show a profit next year.

In all, the Vatican expects its 1998 operating expenses to be $183 million. Income is estimated at $183.5 million.

Szoka will turn the Vatican finance job over to Monsignor Sergio Sebastini. Szoka was recently appointed president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City, the first American to hold that post.