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Vatican's new finance head announces sweeping changes

Pell aims to take Vatican finances 'off the gossip pages'

<p>Picture: Boston Globe/Reuters</p>

Picture: Boston Globe/Reuters

  • John L. Allen Jr. for Boston Globe
  • Vatican City
  • July 10, 2014
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After a sweeping overhaul of the Vatican’s financial operations on Wednesday, one thing seems clear: If Australian Cardinal George Pell fails in getting the Vatican, as he puts it, “off the gossip pages” due to chronic financial scandals, it won’t be because the 73-year-old prelate lacks the power to do the job.

One way or another, changes announced Wednesday bring most of the Vatican’s important financial centers under Pell’s influence, including purchasing and human resources as well as administration of the Vatican’s several billion dollars of investments. They also place Pell confidantes in key positions.

 

After a sweeping overhaul of the Vatican’s financial operations on Wednesday, one thing seems clear: If Australian Cardinal George Pell fails in getting the Vatican, as he puts it, “off the gossip pages” due to chronic financial scandals, it won’t be because the 73-year-old prelate lacks the power to do the job.

One way or another, changes announced Wednesday bring most of the Vatican’s important financial centers under Pell’s influence, including purchasing and human resources as well as administration of the Vatican’s several billion dollars of investments. They also place Pell confidantes in key positions.

• A downsizing of the troubled Vatican Bank, formally known as the “Institute for the Works of Religion”. Administering investments from its estimated $8 billion in holdings will be taken over by a new Vatican Asset Management office, reporting to Pell.

• The “ordinary section” of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), responsible for personal and procurement, will be transferred to Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.

• Appointment of French businessman Jean-Baptiste de Franssu as the bank’s new president. From 1990 to 2011 de Franssu was an executive with Invesco Europe, an investing firm with $35 billion in assets under management.

• Appointment of one new member to a body of cardinals governing the bank, and of several lay people to a board of directors responsible for routine oversight.

• Creation of two commissions to study the sustainability of a pension fund for the Vatican’s roughly 5,000 employees, and a reorganization of media activity expected to result in a downsizing and greater emphasis on social media.

In an exclusive interview with the Globe on Wednesday, Pell insisted that the reform called for by Francis is “moving in the right direction,” but also conceded he’s run into resistance, perhaps especially among an Italian old guard that feels its power slipping away.

“There’s sadness and a bit of antagonism in some quarters, that’s for sure,” Pell said.

As an example of that blowback, Pell shot down recent reports in the Italian press implying that de Franssu, the new bank president, along with two other members of a new Council for the Economy, form a lobby attempting to take control of the Vatican’s money.

Calling the charges “Alice in Wonderland stuff,” he said the three men have his “full support.”

In general, Pell said, his aim is to make the Vatican “boringly successful” as a “model of good financial practices.”

The following are excerpts from the Globe’s interview with Pell.

Globe: In a big-picture sense, what are you trying to do?

Pell: The idea is to introduce modern accounting standards, to strengthen transparency, to increase self-sufficiency and coordination, and eventually to generate more income with lower costs.

Basically, the ambition is to be boringly successful, to get off the gossip pages. The aim is to become a model of good practice in financial administration. Along the way, we’re not going to generate any less revenue for the works of the Church. We’ve also got to be careful that we preserve the Vatican’s patrimony, so we don’t put anything at risk with short-term moves.

You’re confident you can pull it off?

We’re certainly moving in the correct direction.

The power of your Secretariat for the Economy has been enhanced. Is it fair to say that if reform fails, it won’t be because you don’t have the tools for the job?

First I’d like to make a clarification. The whole system is devised to include checks and balances and a division of powers. For instance, I have to answer to the Council for the Economy, rather than it being just an advisory board for me. There are senior, competent, international lay people on these boards, who are much more likely to insist on proper procedures and an appropriate level of independence. We’re not endeavoring to centralize the system.

Having said that, we do now have the authority to implement these systems. We’ll continue doing it as long as Pope Francis is with us, and right now he’s looking extremely healthy.

What are the next steps?

We need to set up APSA [Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which currently administers the Vatican’s real estate and investment portfolio] as the Treasury of the Holy See. We need to get the Vatican Asset Management office up and running. We have to appoint an independent auditor, which is a very important consideration, which we’ll try to do before the end of the year.

Beyond those things, we need to get leaders into the new positions that have been created, and we have to persuade the many good people in the Vatican to cooperate.

How is the cooperation so far?

It’s not going too badly at all. Most of the people in the Vatican are thoroughly good, and they realize that in many ways the old world couldn’t go on. We’ve promised to consult with them and to share information with them, and most are responding well.

I spoke this morning with the staff of the ordinary section of APSA, and they seemed genuinely pleased to see me. It was a contrast with the first time I met them, shortly after I was appointed in February, when they were very cautious indeed.

What about blowback from an Italian old guard?

There’s sadness and a bit of antagonism in some quarters, that’s for sure.

How do you deal with it?

By listening to their complaints and explaining what we’re trying to do. We also need to make sure there’s a significant percentage of Italians in the new leadership, because we’re very dependent on their cooperation. In general, we’re trying to spread accurate information and to dialogue as much as possible. Actually, I suspect the extent to which we’re putting information is something of a novelty.

Full Story: Finance czar aims to steer Vatican ‘off the gossip pages’

Source: Boston Globe

 

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