Catholic Herald, Rome – Pope Francis transferred responsibilities for the administration and oversight of assets previously held and controlled by the Secretariat of State to different curial departments on Thursday.
The move comes amid intense scrutiny of Vatican finances and protracted scandal related to several different aspects of asset management.
In a letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State dated 25 August 2020 and released at noon today by the Press Office of the Holy See, Pope Francis instructed the Secretariat of State “transfer the management and administration of all financial funds and real estate assets to APSA, which will in any case maintain their current purpose.”
The letter also disposed that “all the funds that have so far been administered by the Secretariat of State are to be incorporated into the consolidated budget of the Holy See.” Additionally: “In all matters economic and financial, the Secretariat of State shall operate by means of a budget approved through the usual mechanisms, with its own proper procedures required of any dicastery, except for reserved matters that are subject to secrecy approved by the Commission appointed for this purpose.”
The Secretariat for the Economy shall henceforth have control and oversight responsibility for all organs of the Holy See, including those heretofore under the exclusive purview of the Secretariat of State.
“Bearing in mind that the Secretariat of State will not have to administer or manage assets,” the 25 August letter continues, “it will be appropriate for it to redefine its administrative office, or assess the necessity of its existence.”
In a statement sent to journalists on Thursday accompanying the letter, Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni said Pope Francis this morning established a “Commission of transfer and control, which comes into operation with immediate effect, to complete, in the next three months, the provisions of the letter to the Secretary of State.”
Bruni said the commission was one of the subjects addressed this morning in a meeting of senior officials to discuss the implementation of his instructions. In attendance were Cardinal Parolin, the sostituto – chief-of-staff – Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Secretary General of the Governorate of Vatican City State Bishop Fernando Vergez, President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See Bishop Nunzio Galantino, and Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy Fr Juan Antonio Guerrero SJ.
The 25 August letter released Thursday also names names: “Particular attention must be paid to the investments made in London and the Centurion fund,” it says, “from which we must exit as soon as possible, or at least, dispose of them in such a way as to eliminate all reputational risks.”
The London investment and the Centurion Global Fund have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for months, and are at least tangentially related to the fall from grace of one cardinal.
The move was not entirely unexpected, but the celerity of the action announced is by Roman curial standards frankly breath-taking, and raises a host of questions related to the nuts and bolts of governance.
Though Pope Francis says in the preambulatory part of his 25 August letter to Cardinal Parolin that his decisions in these regards have been taken “[w]ithin the framework of the reform of the Roman curia” and are being taken in view of the reform’s progress, the Secretariat of State was poised – by general consensus among Vatican watchers and senior Churchmen who had reviewed late drafts of the new curial constitution – to become even more powerful within the new disposition.
“The Secretariat of State,” reads the letter, “is without a shadow of a doubt the Dicastery that most closely and directly supports the action of the Holy Father in his mission, representing an essential point of reference in the life of the curia and the dicasteries that are part of it.” Nevertheless, “[I]t does not seem necessary or opportune,” to Pope Francis at least, “that the Secretariat of State should perform all the functions that are already assigned to other Dicasteries.”
“It is preferable,” Pope Francis continues, “that the principle of subsidiarity be implemented also in economic and financial matters, without prejudice to the specific role of the Secretariat of State and the indispensable task it performs.”
Even if nothing else changes on paper, it will be very difficult for the Secretariat of State to keep doing what it has been doing, let alone take on more responsibility – hence more power – if someone else is holding State’s purse.
Vatican watchers have been saying the reform of Vatican finances is basically dead in the water. If Thursday’s developments give reason to gainsay that judgment, they also raise questions concerning the feasibility of the broader reform project.