Just shy of his one-year anniversary as pontiff, Pope Francis has delivered a sweeping reform of Vatican finances, one of the biggest items on the agenda for Curia reformers. In a document released today, the Vatican will establish a separate secretariat for its financial affairs — and appoint an auditor with broad oversight powers:
Pope Francis has taken his boldest step yet to overhaul the Vatican’s scandal-plagued finances, creating a new department with broad powers to oversee all of its economic and administrative affairs, the Vatican said on Monday.
The Secretariat for the Economy will answer directly to the pope and will be headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell, currently the archbishop of Sydney.
The pope will also name an auditor with oversight powers, according to a papal document known as a Motu Proprio, Latin for “by his own initiative”, formalizing the changes.
The Secretariat will be guided in policy making by a new 15-member Council for the Economy, which will be made up of eight cardinals and bishops and seven lay financial experts from the around the world.
The inclusion of the lay members was seen as a move by the pope to bring more outside expertise into the often closed world of Vatican finances to avoid repeats of scandals that have hit the Holy See for decades.
Pope Francis released the text of his order:
“Like a faithful and prudent manager who has the task of carefully looking after what has been entrusted to him, the Church is aware of her responsibility to protect and manage her assets, in the light of her mission of evangelisation and with particular care for those in need. In a special way, the management of the economic and financial sectors of the Holy See is intimately linked to its specific mission, not only in the service of the universal ministry of the Holy Father, but also in relation to the common good, with a view to the full development of the human person.
After having carefully consulted the results of the work of the Commission for Reference on the the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See (cf. Chirograph of 18 July 2013), and after consultation with the Council of Cardinals for the reform of the Apostolic Constitution ‘Pastor Bonus’ and with the Council of Cardinals for the study of economic and administrative problems of the Holy See, by this Apostolic Letter issued Motu proprio, I adopt the following measures:
COUNCIL FOR THE ECONOMY
1. The Council for the Economy is hereby instituted, with the task of offering guidance on economic management and supervising the structures and the administrative and financial activities of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, of the Institutions connected to the Holy See, and of Vatican City State.
2. The Council for the Economy is composed of fifteen members, eight of whom are nominated from among the Cardinals and Bishops in order to reflect the universality of the Church, and seven of whom are lay experts of various nationalities, with recognised professional financial competences.
3. The Council for the Economy shall be presided over by a Cardinal coordinator.
SECRETARIAT FOR THE ECONOMY
4. The Secretariat for the Economy is hereby instituted, as a Dicastery of the Roman Curia in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution ‘Pastor Bonus’.
5. Notwithstanding the provisions for the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat will report directly to the Holy Father and will undertake the economic audit and supervision of the Bodies indicated in point 1 above, along with the policies and procedures regarding procurement and the allocation of human resources, respecting the competences of each Body. The competence of the Secretariat will extend to all matters that in any way fall within this area.
6. The Secretariat for the Economy shall be presided over by a Cardinal Prefect, who shall collaborate with the Secretary of State. A Prelate Secretary General will assist the Cardinal Prefect.
7. The Auditor-General shall be appointed by the Holy Father and shall prepare the audit of the accounts of the Bodies referred to in point 1.
8. The Cardinal Prefect shall be responsible for drawing up the definitive Statues of the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy, and the Office of the Auditor-General. The Statutes shall be presented quam primum for approval by the Holy Father.
I dispose that all that is established herein have immediate, full and permanent value, abrogating any incompatible measures, and that the present Apostolic Letter issued Motu proprio be published in the Osservatore Romano of 24 February 2014 and subsequently in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
Given in Rome, St. Peter’s, on 24 February of the year 2014, the first of my Pontificate.”
It will take some time to implement, of course, and it may not produce much fruit at first. The Vatican has spent the last couple of years trying to clean up the existing structure, so the effort won’t start from scratch, either. But this is a rather dramatic shift, and it will raise expectations of dramatic improvements in the Vatican’s financial dealings.