Pope Francis looks on during Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2019. (ANDREW MEDICHINI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Pope Francis issued a pair of Apostolic Letters motu proprio — on his own initiative — last week. One modifies the General Regulations of the Roman Curia in an attempt to discourage and curtail corruption. The other allows Cardinals and Bishops to be tried for criminal offences by lower-level Vatican Courts. Previously, high-ranking prelates could only be tried in such cases by the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s Supreme Court.
Cardinals and Bishops in the dock?
In his Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis emphasises that the changes to Vatican City law are based on the principle, enunciated at Vatican II, that “all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the body of Christ.”
“The awareness of these values and principles,” the Pope writes, “which has progressively matured in the ecclesial community, today calls for an ever more adequate conformity to them also in the Vatican system.”
The new legislation only applies to criminal cases. The Pope retains the right to personally hear cases involving Cardinals and Bishops that concern spiritual matters or violations of canon (ecclesiastical) law.
The changes also “ensure that everyone can enjoy a multi-degree judgement,” allowing for appeals at various stages of the judicial process. The new provisions, writes the Pope, bring Vatican statutes “in line with the most advanced international legal experience.”
The motu proprio maintains the requirement that the Pope must approve such cases before they proceed. An article on the Vatican News website notes that “the new provisions are similar to procedures in States that require authorisation from parliaments in order to try heads of state or government ministers.”
Transparency in Vatican finances
Friday’s motu proprio was the second in as many days aimed at combatting corruption in the Vatican. The first, issued on Thursday “with immediate effect,” concerns “transparency in the management of public finances” in the Vatican.
With that Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis requires senior Vatican officials to make a formal declaration that they have not been convicted of criminal offences, nor benefited from a pardon or amnesty in relation to such offences; and that they are not subject to pending criminal proceedings or investigations.
They are further required to attest and that they do not hold financial interests in countries with a high risk of money laundering or terrorist financing, in companies or business in countries operating “for purposes or in sectors contrary to the social doctrine of the Church”; or in countries included “in non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.” Additionally, they affirm that “to the best of [their] knowledge,” all of their property and income derives from lawful activities.
The Apostolic Letter also forbids all Vatican employees from accepting or soliciting gifts related to the performance of their duties in excess of forty euros.
Explaining the new provisions, Pope Francis writes, “Faithfulness in matters of little account is related, according to Scripture, to faithfulness in things of importance, just as being dishonest in things of little importance is related to being dishonest in things of importance.”
He adds that employees of the Roman Curia and other institutions linked to the Holy See “have a particular responsibility to put into practice the fidelity spoken of in the Gospel, by acting according to the principle of transparency and in the absence of any conflict of interest.”
The Pope notes that the new regulations follow on norms established in 2020 “to combat corruption in the area of public contracts” of the Holy See and the Vatican. Since, however, “corruption can also occur in different ways and forms in sectors other than procurement,” those who hold “key positions” in the public sector are bound to “special obligations of transparency” in order to prevent and combat “conflicts of interest, patronage, and corruption in general.