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Was the Vatican auditor general fired for doing his job?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 25, 2017

The “filial appeal” to Pope Francis was not the most important story that emerged from the Vatican this past weekend.

Don’t misunderstand me. When the Roman Pontiff is accused of encouraging the spread of heretical beliefs, that’s an important story (about which I’ll have more to say soon). But the public remarks of the Vatican’s former auditor general are an even more vivid illustration of the chaos that has enveloped the Vatican during this tumultuous papacy.

Libero Milone, who had resigned quietly in June, has now come forward to say that he was forced out because he was investigating financial irregularities (which was, after all, his job). The assistant Secretary of State, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, says that claim is “false and unjustified.”

Ordinarily the story might stop there. We don’t know which offices and individuals Milone was investigating, and since he is still bound by a confidentiality agreement, he can’t tell us. So we don’t know the real story behind his resignation. But take a look at what we do know.

  • We know—because both Milone and Archbishop Becciu tell us—that the auditor’s resignation was forced. We know (because both sides agree) that he was given a choice of resigning quietly or facing criminal charges.
  • Milone says that his office was bugged and its computers were hacked. He employed a security firm to seek out the source of the illicit surveillance. Archbishop Becciu says that Milone was “spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff.” No matter who’s telling the truth (and in this case I strongly suspect that both sides are), Vatican officials were bugging each other’s offices.
  • Milone has not been replaced. The office of auditor general remains vacant. On paper the auditor general works under the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. That office, too, is essentially vacant. The prefect, Cardinal George Pell, is in Australia and unlikely to return any time soon.

Those facts—to say nothing of the inferences that can be drawn from them—illustrate an astonishing level of dysfunction within the Vatican bureaucracy. More than four years after Pope Francis was elected, and given a mandate to clean up the Roman Curia, leading Vatican officials are bugging each other’s offices and swapping charges of illegal activity. While the Secretariat for the Economy, which was created to bring accountability to the Curia, has been effectively gutted.

Back in June, when Milone suddenly resigned without any public explanation, I wrote that his departure was obviously the result of a turf battle: “When there’s bureaucratic infighting, following by an abrupt resignation,” I wrote, “it’s easy to tell who won the battle.”

At the time, I suggested that the main battle pitted the Secretariat for the Economy against APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. But Cardinal Pell’s office was also encountering resistance from the powerful Secretariat of State. Now we know that it was the 2nd-ranking official in the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Becciu, who demanded Milone’s resignation.

Milone thought that someone was spying on his office. He hired an outside contractor to investigate, and the contractor confirmed that a computer in Milone’s office had been compromised; someone apparently had gained access to his files. At that point, Milone understandably wanted to identify the culprit. So it seems that he authorized the contractor to widen its investigation.

According to the Vatican press office, Milone “illegally engaged an external company to conduct investigative activities on the private life of Holy See personnel.” That statement seems fully compatible with Milone’s claim that he was trying to find out who was spying on him.

The key word in that Vatican statement is “illegally.” Was the auditor going beyond his statutory authority by engaging in surveillance of other Vatican officials? Milone was told by a Vatican prosecutor that his investigations were “in clear violation” of the statutes under which he was employed. A dispassionate Reuters story goes on to note:

It was not clear which statutes were said to have been violated. Article two of the statutes says the auditor-general has “full autonomy and independence,” including to “receive and investigate any reports on anomalous activities” of Vatican entities.

Clearly the auditor general had one idea of what “full autonomy and independence” meant, and the Secretariat of State had another. When a conflict arose, the Secretariat of State prevailed. At the Vatican, the Secretariat of State always prevails.

So where do we stand, as faithful Catholic witnesses to this unseemly public dispute? Now that we know that the auditor general’s offices were bugged, that his “full autonomy” is actually restricted, that he was fired because he was too aggressive in pursuit of possible wrongdoing—how can we be confident that the next Vatican financial scandal isn’t looming just around the corner?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Sep. 27, 2017 12:07 AM ET USA

    Vatican 1 - Pope 0. And yeah I know the win/loss column is a lot worse. We are yearning for real leadership and clear direction. It's hard not to feel dismayed and saddened by these ongoing depressing developments. More prayer and penance. May Our Lady keep us safe.