Action Alert!

Why is the Vatican audit still on hold?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 19, 2016

A month has passed since the Vatican Secretariat of State abruptly announced the suspension on an external audit. After Cardinal George Pell-- who, as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, had authorized the audit—revealed that he was "a bit surprised" by the sudden move, the Secretariat of State issued a murky statement suggesting that some clauses in the auditors' contracts needed clarification, and then the external audit could proceed. Everyone involved agreed that the audit remained a high priority.

So why, a month later, has there been no movement on this high-priority matter?

If it really was just a matter of working out details of the contract, the solution would seem simple. Get everyone involved in the same room, hammer out the precise terms, sign the deal, and put the auditors back to work. That shouldn't take a month. We know that the Secretariat for the Economy is anxious to resume the audit. We know that the auditors are ready to go—in fact they were already at work. So where's the snag? Two possibilities come to mind:

  1. The Secretariat of State actually isn't enthusiastic about pursuing the external audit. So negotiation on the terms of the audit contract is proceeding at a desultory pace—if it is proceeding at all.
  2. The Secretariat of State is seeking to impose new restrictive conditions that the auditors find unacceptable. Since that auditors' only motive is to uncover the facts about Vatican financial affairs, this would suggest that... We're back to possibility #1: The Secretariat of State actually isn't enthusiastic about pursuing the external audit.

When this issue arose in April, there were hints that the Secretariat of State was zealously protecting the sovereign legal rights of the Vatican city-state. The same arguments about sovereignty have been invoked to defend the Vatican against lawsuits by sex-abuse victims. These arguments can have dangerous implications, insofar as they emphasize the status of the Vatican as a nation-state rather than a spiritual power. We'll examine this subject further in future posts. For now, let's just take note of an unhappy irony. While Pope Francis speaks constantly about how the Church should shed all claims to worldly wealth and influence, his Secretariat of State is diligently-- perhaps too diligently-- working to shore up the Vatican's claim to temporal authority.

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: unum - May. 26, 2016 7:29 AM ET USA

    Phil says, "These arguments can have dangerous implications, insofar as they emphasize the status of the Vatican as a nation-state rather than a spiritual power." I believe the same "dangerous implications" apply to many of the U.S.dioceses where fund raising for the bureaucracy ("pastoral appeals") takes precedence over spiritual matters such as works of mercy.