18 October 2018
As prefect at the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell will play an important role in the pope's Working Party for the Economic Future. Photo:
As prefect at the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell will play an important role in the pope's Working Party for the Economic Future. Photo:

Pope orders audit of Vatican wealth, crackdown on extravagance

Pope Francis has ordered the most powerful bodies in the Vatican to launch an unprecedented audit of its wealth and crack down on runaway spending, Bloomberg reported.

At the suggestion of his economic chief, Cardinal George Pell, Francis has set up a Working Party for the Economic Future, which brings together the Secretariat of State, or prime minister’s office, the Vatican Bank and other agencies.

Francis has told the panel “to address the financial challenges and identify how more resources can be devoted to the many good works of the church, especially supporting the poor and vulnerable”, Danny Casey, director of Pell’s office at the Secretariat for the Economy, told Bloomberg in an interview.

The pope’s initiatives come as five people stand trial in the Vatican over the leaking of confidential documents in two books published last month that described corruption, mismanagement and wasteful spending by church officials.

Those on trial deny wrongdoing.

Francis has pushed for more openness and transparency in Vatican financial and economic agencies but has faced resistance from the bureaucracy.

Officials will appoint one of the world’s top four accounting firms to review the church’s processes, Casey said. 

The two books that triggered the latest scandal — Avarice, by Emiliano Fittipaldi, and Merchants in the Temple, by Gianluigi Nuzzi — say Francis has denounced costs as being “out of control” and that Peter’s Pence donations go not to the needy but to Vatican departments.

Many cardinals live in apartments as large as 5,400 square feet, waited on by aides and surrounded by Renaissance art.

Pell, an Australian who is prefect at the Secretariat for the Economy, has been drawn into the controversy.

Avarice alleges that Pell and three aides, including Casey, accumulated expenses totaling 501,000 euros (US$532,000) between July 2014 and January 2015 for costs including business class flights from Rome to London, Munich and Malta.

Pell denied the allegations when they first surfaced in the Italian magazine L’Espresso in February.

Casey said it was “ridiculous” to suggest the spending was for personal expenses.

“The cardinal is committed to cost management, as is his whole team,” he said.

“Unfortunately every leader working on the financial reforms has at some stage been criticized either personally or professionally — this is a classic diversionary tactic and perhaps a sign that good progress is being made.”

While Francis recruiting experts from outside the church is a step in the right direction, the pontiff may not be around long enough to see through his reforms, the report quoted papal biographer Austen Ivereigh as saying.

The Vatican can be reformed, “but it will take a generation, because the existing practices and mindset are so well-established”, Ivereigh said.

“The Curia is built to resist change. Historically, it was designed to be impervious to outside influence.”

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