Vatican Announces Widespread Reform Plans

French Businessman and British Peer Hired to Oversee Changes to Finances and Media

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Pope Francis’ first substantial reforms to the Roman Curia were revealed at the Vatican today.

The initial changes focus on four areas: the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) which handles assets belonging to the Holy See, the Vatican’s pension fund, the Holy See’s media operations, and the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as the ‘Vatican Bank’.

Speaking to journalists at the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy, explained that the APSA will be split into two, with one part transferred to the new Secretariat for the Economy to enable “economic control and vigilance”.

The remaining part of APSA will begin a new role, working exclusively as a Treasury and central bank for the Holy See and Vatican City State.  One of its key tasks will be to establish working relationships with central banks around the world.

The Australian cardinal disclosed that annual audited reports of Vatican finances will be “audited externally”, and that he hopes to appoint an auditor general who will be “independent” and “able to go anywhere and everywhere.”

He stressed that efforts are continuing to ensure that “international financial standards” will be followed in all sections and dicasteries of the Holy See and the Governatorato [governing body of Vatican City State].

“We’re not quite at that stage but that’s the explicit goal to which we are heading,” he said.  “We hope to be a model for financial management, rather than a cause for financial scandal.”

He also announced that his dicastery will prepare a budget for 2015, and that each discastery and administration will prepare their own budget to be followed. “We look forward to moving ahead with this work in the coming months.”

The Vatican confirmed today that Pope Francis has appointed Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, who heads a mergers and acquisitions consultancy firm, to take over from Ernst von Freyberg as president of IOR. A Frenchman married with four children, he is also a member of the World Youth Alliance.

Franssu, who has been appointed with the explicit task to see through the second phase of IOR’s reform, told today’s press conference that he wishes to continue efforts to increase the IOR’s transparency. He said he recognizes the “great responsibility” he has been given which he accepts “with great humility to help the Holy Father and the Church to increase their work towards the poor and the propagation of the faith.”

Von Freyberg told reporters that under his watch, the IOR investigated “every single client” as well as “legacy cases with which IOR is burdened” and recalled  various measures aimed at increasing transparency that are now in place.

He said he had a number of “surprises and good surprises” during his 18 month tenure, most notably that there are no numbered accounts, large amounts belonging to Italian families, politicians or bad organisations, and that “no one” blocked his investigations. “We found it quite easy to do what we’ve done,” he said. His other surprise was the media: he praised them for their diligence and dedication to searching for the truth, without an agenda.

Asked by ZENIT what the negative surprises were, he laughed before replying: “I didn’t say there were negative ones. I spoke about surprises. Life comes with surprises. There are many.”

Concerning the Vatican’s media operations, Cardinal Pell said a committee has been established to propose – though not implement – reforms over the next 12 months. 

British politician Lord Patten, a former governor of Hong Kong and, until earlier this year, chairman of the BBC Trust, will head the committee which will comprise a mix of Vatican staff and senior international experts.

Cardinal Pell said the aim is to “sensitively and progressively” make “significant saving of funds”, as well as improve coordination and create a “more balanced expenditure.” He said patterns of Vatican expenditure on media “in no way correlate to the number of people who are reached” and that there is a need to “enhance coordination” and “diminish replication”.  

Lastly, the Vatican’s pension fund was discussed. Joseph F. X. Zahra, deputy coordinator of the Council for the Economy, said the Vatican had set up a “technical committee” to study the situation and make proposals. He stressed the fund was secure.

Deborah Castellano Lubov contributed to this article.


On ZENIT’s webpage:

Vatican statement on today’s press conference  

Motu proprio on transfer of competencies to Secretariat for the Economy 

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