Pope Francis has announced the biggest shake-up in Vatican administration for years by creating a new Secretariat for the Economy which will have oversight of all economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State. The changes have been made via a motu propio, meaning on the Pope’s personal initiative.
The Secretariat, led by a cardinal prefect, will be responsible for preparing an annual budget, all financial planning as well as staffing, and will prepare detailed financial statements of the Holy See and Vatican State.
The Secretariat will be headed by Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, who since 2007 has sat on the so-called ‘Council of Fifteen’, the body which until now has overseen the financial affairs of the Holy See. Cardinal Pell is also a member of the “C8″, Pope Francis’s kitchen cabinet of advisors. According to the Vatican, “The Prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy has been asked to start work as soon as possible.”
The Secretariat for the Economy will be answerable to a new Pontifical Council for the Economy, made up of eight cardinals or bishops drawn from across the world, together with seven lay experts of different nationalities with strong professional financial experience. The Council will meet regularly to consider policies and practices and to prepare and analyze reports on the economic-administrative activities of the Holy See.
There will also be a new post of Auditor-General, appointed by the Pope, with the power to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time.
Today’s announcement follows a root-and-branch review by the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic- Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA), whose recommendations were last week considered and endorsed by the C18, during their three-day meeting with the Pope. They were also agreed by the “Council of 15″ existing financial oversight board.
According to the Vatican press release, “COSEA recommended changes to simplify and consolidate existing management structures and improve coordination and oversight across the Holy See and Vatican City State. COSEA also recommended more formal commitment to adopting accounting standards and generally accepted financial management and reporting practices as well as enhanced internal controls, transparency and governance.”
The press release also said that the changes “will enable more formal involvement of senior and experienced experts in financial administration, planning and reporting and will ensure better use of resources, improving the support available for various programs, particularly our works with the poor and marginalized.”
This is the first major structural reform announced by Pope Francis, which is intended to root out corruption and inefficiency in the Vatican’s finances, both of which were highlighted during the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal of late 2012.
Cardinal Pell has been a longstanding advocate of structural reform in Vatican finances, and a critic of curial incompetence.
Today’s announcement did not mention the so-called ‘Vatican Bank’, the Instituto delle Opere delle Religioni (IOR), which was also the subject of a report presented to the C8 last week. According to the Vatican press release, two existing bodies — APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known as the ‘Vatican central bank'; and the AIF, or Financial Administration Authority, which has a watchdog role within the Vatican — are unaffected by the announcement.
[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]