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Pope cuts back authority of Secretariat for Economy

July 11, 2016

Pope Francis has cut back on the authority of the Secretariat for the Economy, with a new motu proprio that removes the power of the new office to supervise the administration of the Vatican's financial assets.

The motu proprio restores the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) to its former role in administering Vatican assets. The Secretariat for the Economy, the document states, will have responsibility for oversight: establishing procedures for Vatican financial tranactions and ensuring that those procedures are followed.

The new division of responsibilities resolves an internal struggle for control of Vatican financial affairs, trimming the power of the Secretariat for the Economy and its prefect, Cardinal George Pell. The motu proprio represents victory for Vatican officials who had argued that the Australian prelate was asserting too much control in his bid to ensure financial accountability.

Explaining the change, Pope Francis wrote in the motu proprio that the latest change was prompted by a desire to separate administration from financial oversight. "It is of the utmost importance that bodies responsible for vigilance are separated from those that are being overseen," he wrote.

The Secretariat for the Economy was established in 2014 in order to establish effective control over Vatican financial affairs. Cardinal Pell was initially given a broad mandate for reform, reflecting the widespread concern caused by a series of financial scandals. His office responded to the challenge by establishing new uniform rules of accounting and budgeting, which applied to all Vatican offices-- ending an old system under which different agencies kept their own accounts, often without effective oversight. The Secretariat for the Economy also unearthed significant problems in Vatican financial affairs, including unrestrained spending and undervalued assets. Many of these problems could be traced to APSA, the office that had been responsible for handling the Vatican's most important financial assets.

However, the aggressive reforms also caused a significant reaction, with many Vatican officials questioning the rising power of the new Secretariat. Cardinal Pell's new office had begun to amass an overarching authority, almost challenging that of the Vatican's only other Secretariat, the powerful Secretariat of State, in supervising the work of other dicasteries. 

Last year the scope of the power wielded by the Secretariat for the Economy was trimmed, when responsibility for handling the Vatican's extensive real-estate portfolio was returned to APSA. The latest change, announced on July 9, restores much more of APSA's former powers, leaving the Secretariat with little direct responsibility for financial transactions. The Secretariat retains its oversight authority, and the Pope writes in the motu proprio that the relationship between APSA and the Secretariat should be guided by "mutual cooperation."

 
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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jul. 14, 2016 2:31 PM ET USA

    In my humble opinion, Cardinal Pell was doing an excellent job and trying to obtain audits was only correct and reasonable. Looks like the "powers that be" in the curial reform movement didn't like what he was doing and finding out and put the kabosh (sp?) on the cardinal. His role will be pretty much ineffectual now and they are back to where they were in the beginning - undercover corruption in Vatican banking and financial affairs. I feel for the Cardinal who must be very frustrated.

  • Posted by: unum - Jul. 12, 2016 11:28 AM ET USA

    This change raises serious questions about the judgement of the Holy Father and restores the doubts about the integrity of senior Vatican officials. We will not be reassured until there is an independent audit of the Vatican and a public opinion by the auditors. If a business firm was managed like the Vatican, its shareholders would have bailed out long ago!

  • Posted by: BCLX - Jul. 11, 2016 6:27 PM ET USA

    This will inevitably be seen as a set back to financial transparency of Vatican affairs. Unhappily it deals a blow to the long term credibility of reform of the Roman Curia that had, it was widely believed, the full support of the pope himself.