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What is happening with the Sistine Chapel Choir?

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After a tumultuous financial scandal, Pope Francis has put the choir under new management

With a motu proprio released on January 19, Pope Francis put the Sistine Chapel Choir under the administration of the Office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, appointing Mons. Guido Marini, who is the master of ceremonies for papal liturgies, to the helm, and entrusting him with drafting the choir’s new statutes.

This decision has apparently two main reasons behind it: it is the first step of a wider reform that will end with the shutdown of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household; and it is a way to strengthen control over the choir after the turmoil of a financial scandal still under investigation.

The Sistine Chapel Choir is the most ancient choir in the world, its history dating back to the 7th century. It is normally comprised of 20 men (tenors and basses) and 30 boys (sopranos and altos).

In the January 19 motu proprio, Pope Francis noted that, since its foundation, the choir has been “a high place for artistic and liturgical expression at the service of the solemn celebrations of the Pontiffs, initially into the splendid chapel after which it was named, and then in St. Peter’s Basilica or wherever pontiffs deemed its work needed.”

Pope Francis also noted that the choir was managed by the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household because of this special link with the pope, though “enjoying autonomous administration,” under, by the way, some guiding constraints.

Though the office of Master of Ceremonies was established in the 15th century, it was Pope St. John Paul II that shaped the office into its current form, with proper legislation and competencies, through Pastor bonus, the 1988 apostolic constitution that regulates functions of tasks of the offices of the Roman Curia.

Marini has been at the helm of the office, as master of papal liturgical celebrations, since 2007.

On January 19, the pope established that Marini will have the task “of leading all the Sistine Chapel Choir activities in liturgical, pastoral, spiritual, artistic and educational fields,” in order to make “always more perceivable in it and in its members the primary end of sacred music.”

Pope Francis also entrusted Marini with the task of drafting statutes for the choir, that will be an update of the regulations of the choir approved by Pope St. Paul VI in 1969.

In addition, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Guido Pozzo “superintendent of the economy of the Sistine Chapel Choir,” with the only task of “the care of the economic administration of the Chapel.”

Before this decision, the Sistine Chapel Choir was under the competency of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, and the administration was managed by layman Michelangelo Nardella.

Nardella has been suspended while under investigation for financial scandals that involved the Sistine Chapel Choir administration.

News about a financial scandal involving the Sistine Chapel Choir broke in July 2018 and were confirmed by the Holy See Press Office in September 2018.

The Holy See Press Office, in a declaration delivered on September 12, 2018, stated that “Pope Francis, some months ago, authorized an investigation on the economic-administrative aspects” of the Sistine Chapel Choir, and underscored that “the investigations are still ongoing.”

The investigations of the Vatican public prosecutor came after two internal investigations conducted by Archbishop Mario Giordana, a retired apostolic nuncio.

The allegations were of reported money laundering, aggravated fraud against the Vatican City State, and embezzlement. The investigations targeted Nardella and the director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, Mons. Massimo Palombella.

According to reports, Nardella and Palombella allegedly transferred some concert proceeds to an Italian bank account and used the money for personal expenses.

When the news broke in July, Andrea Tornielli, now editorial director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, penned an article in La Stampa on July 4, explaining that “it was true that it has been opened (opened, not concluded), an administrative (not criminal or civil) lawsuit against Nardella for a mistake he made.”

Tornielli went on to say that “this mistake has nothing to do with contracts, management of funds.” Nardella instead allegedly “sent to a conference a message attributed to the Pope using an old (and authentic) text of Pope Francis from a similar occasion without asking for the required authorization from the Secretariat of State.”

The investigation continued, and in September 2018 the Holy See Press Office made a public announcement about ongoing investigation.

With the motu proprio this month, Palombella keeps his position as director of the choir, while the pope made the decision to make Pozzo the manager.

In the end, the Sistine Chapel Choir loses its administrative autonomy, and the pope will exercise more oversight.

Another consequence is that the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household loses another piece of its responsibilities, making it appear just a matter of time before Pope Francis shuts down the entire office.

Led by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the prefecture organizes official visits to the pope, tickets to and the organization of the general audiences, and the activities of the Apostolic Palace.

Pope Francis might absorb part of the office within the Secretariat of State: the visits of heads of State to the pope should be managed by the office for protocol, while there could be another office for the management of the tickets for general audiences.

Along with that, it is also rumored Pope Francis will shutdown the Apostolic Camera, that is, the body that manages the Church’s patrimony during the sede vacante. The Apostolic Camera is composed of seven members and led by a Cardinal Camerlengo. The position of camerlengo has been vacant since July, when Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, camerlengo, passed away.

It is said the administrative functions of the Apostolic Camera will be transferred to the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. The transition insede vacante might be managed by the Secretariat of State.