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Vatican Secretariat for Economy rejects overspending claims

Pope Francis's finance czar Cardinal George Pell (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The Vatican Secretariat for the Economy has rejected accusations that its prefect, Cardinal George Pell, has made excessive expense claims.

In a statement, the secretariat also dismissed as “completely false” reports that Pope Francis had discussed the expenses with Cardinal Pell.

The Vatican secretariat’s receipts were leaked to the Italian magazine L’Espresso in a move reminiscent of the VatiLeaks scandal, in which confidential documents were given to the media in apparent attempt to settle scores within the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Pell is seeking to introduce sweeping reforms that would increase financial transparency within the Curia. His critics claim that the reforms would make the economy secretariat too powerful. Pope Francis is expected to decide soon on the scope of the secretariat’s authority and the leaks may be an attempt to influence him.

According to Vatican Insider, two articles in L’Espresso focused on Cardinal Pell, one headlined “Peccati cardinali” (Cardinal sins) and the other “I lussi del moralizzatore” (The luxuries of a moraliser).

L’Espresso said that the secretariat had claimed €501,000 (£360,000, $560,000) in expenses between July last year and January this year. It also alleged that Pope Francis had queried the purchase of a €4,600 (£3,300, $5,000) kitchen unit with Cardinal Pell.

A spokesperson for the Secretariat for the Economy said: “Reports of a discussion between the Holy Father and Cardinal Pell about expenditure by the secretariat are completely false – there has been no discussion between the Holy Father and Cardinal Pell about such matters. Claims of a conversation are a complete fiction.

“Since March 2014 when the secretariat was initiated, the operational costs of the secretariat, which include some initial set up costs, were in fact below the budget set when the office was established.

“The secretariat currently has 12 staff working on implementing new financial management routines to improve transparency and accountability. The secretariat will shortly present to the Council for the Economy the Audited Financial Statements for 2014. This will include a detailed account of all Vatican entities, including the Secretariat for the Economy.”

Yesterday Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi sharply criticised the L’Espresso articles.

He said: “Passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal.

“The fact that complex economic or legal issues are the subject of discussion and diverse points of view should be considered normal. In light of the views expressed, the Pope issues guidelines, and everybody follows them.”

“The article makes direct personal attacks that should be considered undignified and petty. And it is untrue that the Secretariat for the Economy is not carrying on its work with continuity and efficacy. In confirmation of this, the secretariat is expected in the next few months to publish the financial statements for 2014 and the estimated budgets for 2015 for all of the entities of the Holy See, including the secretariat itself.”