The Pope's Audience with Members of the Office of the Auditor General of the Holy See and Vatican City State Photo: Vatican Media

Vatican’s Economic Reform Has Just Begun: ZENIT’s Translation of Pope’s Letter into English

The Holy Father acknowledges in the letter Cardinal George Pell’s role; he explains that it’s not to be reforming in order to seem that things are different, and he explains in what the Church’s service consists and the virtues of loyalty and prudence in the management of the Holy See’s patrimony. He also talks about the path and spirit that have inspired the reforms in the Vatican’s economy.

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 11.12.2023).- Pope Francis sent a letter to the staff working in the Secretariat for the Economy. The letter addresses a broad gamut of topics related to the handling of money in the Holy See. The Pope addresses the challenges of an economic reform, which, he says, has just begun, with clarity, close language and depth.

Here is the letter translated into English by ZENIT.

* * *

I was happy, especially, with the meeting we held last Monday, almost ten years after the beginning of the Holy See’s economic reforms and the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, which was the main precursor of the reforms.

Looking back and seeing the current situation, I cannot but attest to the numerous advances that have been made. Hence I thank you, because you carry out a delicate and complex service. The work has been much appreciated to equip the Holy See with the necessary instruments for its patrimony to be oriented to the mission, avoiding the risks of falling into the errors of the past that we all know.

I thank you and all those that have worked from the beginning of the Secretariat for the Economy with courage and generosity to improve the Holy See’s economic organization. Speaking of courage, I’m thinking in particular of my deceased brother, Cardinal George Pell, first Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. On the occasion of his episcopal consecration he chose as his motto: “Do Not Be Afraid.” A motto of which he gave concrete example in his Christian life  and in his role as Prefect, expression of the zeal, conviction, determination and vision of a man who understood, before others, the path that had to be followed.

The basis was thus set for all the subsequent reforms that were carried out after him, in particular under the direction of Father Juan Antonio Guerrero who, with a style based on dialogue, concretion and simplicity, contributed decisively to the achievement of many of the objectives that the Holy See set for itself in the economic and financial realm.

What has been done must not make us think that the path of the economic reformed has ended. On the contrary, it’s just begun. The Church is dynamic and has the duty to adapt to the new times to bring the consolation of the evangelical message everywhere, paying special attention to the most disadvantaged. To reform herself, to question herself always without failing to contemplate the good accomplished to be reflected in the results achieved, is a necessity for the Church and the Curia. In this perspective, the Secretariat for the Economy also, as economic organ of the Roman Curia, is called to promote, in its own ambit, a constant movement of change towards the better.

The reform does not consist in changing to demonstrate that things are done necessarily in a different way from the way they were done in the past. The change is a functional and proportional renewal. Therefore, in some cases it is radical, in others it’s an adaptation of what is already good: and the effects of these changes must be watched, because decisions can be taken that later must be corrected, in view of a “continuous improvement.”

Hence, the Economy is at the service of the mission, and all of you who work in the Secretariat of Economy are part of the mission, because the good management of goods and their use is a witness to all of the much that can be done with little. And you have chosen to join this service in favour of the mission. In current parlance, the term service has acquired a pejorative meaning, because it’s associated to the figure of servant, formerly of the slave. In other circumstances, those who use this term do so to give their service visibility and, to exact recognition. None of this  is service to the Church. Instead, try to think of a father’s role towards his son: that is the service of men and women that, with gratuitous love, do what is necessary to support the growth of the children and of the family. In this connection, your work and your mission is a service provided to the Curia and, hence, to the entire Church.

And it’s a delicate work because even a father’s best intentions can be translated in behaviour that must be avoided: to be authoritarian instead of having authority; feared instead of being respected and recognized; exercise power instead of taking decisions, feeling the responsibility to protect the common good, to keep money without a purpose instead of using it so that the mission can grow and flourish, forgetting that the Church is poor because all that she has isn’t for herself, but to be used where it’s needed in a selfless manner.

Fidelis dispensator et prudens,” thus is the Motu Proprio called, which instituted this Secretariat. Fidelity to the mission and prudence are the virtues that must accompany you in your work, in the management of each subject, given that the many responsibilities that are entrusted to you expose you to the risk of small and big mistakes, which must be avoided. One of the big errors is a habit: the primacy of the formal over the real.

You must find the capacity to listen and to be listened to, to make available to those that take recourse to you, because of your experience, the professionalism, and the economic and legal technique to undertake  the initiatives that make up the mission. The constant effort must be to support those initiatives, taking care that they go back, not to the norm and the technique as ends in themselves, or to the arbitrary will of those responsible for deciding and authorizing, but to the common good.

But you must also have the loyalty to say no, when what is presented to you or you find in the controls betrays the mission, when the individual interest of some prevails over the collective, when the rules are violated or are artificially eluded to pursue ends that are foreign to the Holy See and the Church, and the options have little or nothing to do with the mission or harm it. Loyalty means never to be an accomplice, even if it’s only feigning not to see, even if it’s only not wanting to defraud those friendships that, which in a work community, such as the Holy See, are established and it’s good that they are established (the good father is able to say no to his children because he loves them and for their good and that of the family).

Prudence and loyalty for the common good of our work community , of the Church, of the faithful and of the needy, this is what it means to be a Pontifical Secretariat, of this the Secretariat for the Economy is guardian and servant, from when it proposes new norms, valid for all, until it verifies that those norms are respected. Hence, a service that requires professionalism, dedication, study in depth, but also humility, willingness to listen, a spirit of service and, finally, vigilance and culture of legality and of transparency, joined to the duty and courage to report everything that is not compliant.

This has been the path and the spirit of the economic reforms carried out to date, and this is the perspective with which to address the future. It’s about working with the courage to take responsibly decisions that aren’t popular, because your vision must necessarily look to the whole, thinking of the future.

I know that the Holy See has an important deficit every year. In fact, the whole organization is at the service of the mission, and the financial sources are limited. But we know that a deficit means that part of the patrimony is eroded, and this compromises the future. This is the reason a turn must be taken. This awareness must be acquired at all levels of our community: we are all responsible for preserving the patrimony to guarantee that those who come after us will also have the necessary resources to continue their path. We must all be willing, with modesty and a spirit of service, to give up our particular interest for the sake of the common interest, even if it implies changes and adaptations to different contexts. This calls for being free of rigidity and available, with sincerity, for the actualization. It can be obtained with loyalty and prudence.

To do so, we need new competencies, new people, but also persons renewed in the spirit and professionalism. The challenge for the Secretariat of Economy is double in the realm of the management of human resources. On one hand, to guarantee that the new contracts have adequate characteristics, both ethical as well as professional. On the other, those that already work for the Holy See must be given the opportunity to be renewed, offering them formation, growth opportunities, new experiences and demonstrating to them trust and recognition. All must be guaranteed equitable remuneration, within the limits of the available resources, so much more just when linked to the results and the contribution that each one brings to the service of the Church. Careerism must be avoided, but if all are given  adequate opportunities and a favourable and welcoming milieu is created, to recompense merit is a demonstration of equity, which encourages you to continue.

However, the providers also support the mission, although in a different way to those that in reality the same principles are applied: ethics, capacity and professionalism, just price to obtain a just benefit. The rules that the Holy See has given itself in tenders must be functional to satisfy the needs of entities, identifying the provider and the best proposal. It is up to you to actualize them and interpret them, so that what is ethical and functional to the mission will arise, to the best price possible, in order to preserve the patrimony for the future without giving up today’s mission. Then we must take care of the patrimony, when we are in conditions to save it, and we must also invest it with care, in an ethical way, so that the fruits of the management are distributed equitably and each one has what is really needed. The investments must not have the objective of speculation or accumulation.

The budgets must not be a sterile accounting exercise, but must represent an effort to accompany the mission in each one, distributing the resources in keeping with the real needs, even at times asking some to take a step back or to share the income with others. So that there aren’t rich entities and poor entities, but only one Holy See that moves in harmony, knowing that all, although with different tasks, participate in the realization and pursuit of the same good.

It’s a task that requires a great effort, so it’s important that all feel supported by the Secretariat for the Economy in its realization, and find listening, support, competence and capacity to make the rules we have given ourselves functional and the ones we’ll give ourselves in the pursuit of these objectives.

You have demonstrated to me in the past that this is the culture of the Secretariat of the Economy and, hence, I thank you, assuring you that you are not alone in the difficulties you meet. I encourage you to continue following this path with confidence and to improve yourselves, continuing listening and evaluating with equity and professionalism not only the requests but also the numerous suggestions that come to you from our work community. Thus, all together we will give witness of an economy at the service  of the common good. Thank you very much for your good will.

I pray for you; please, pray for me. May the Lord bless you and the Virgin guard you.


Translation of the Italian original into Spanish by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester

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