This has been an annus horribilis for Vatican financial reformers: a year of relentless bad news. To understand the events of the past 12 months, we must go back to the conclave of 2013. Pope Francis emerged with a mandate to reform the Holy See’s murky finances. He swiftly created three powerful new bodies: a Council for the Economy, a Secretariat for the Economy and an independent Auditor General. They joined the Vatican Financial Information Authority, founded in 2010 by Benedict XVI, in the struggle to end the Vatican’s reputation as a den of financial iniquity. Today two of these four bodies are now adrift.
The Auditor General, Libero Milone, stepped down suddenly in June. He had been asked to carry out an audit of Holy See finances in 2016 after the Vatican abruptly cancelled an external review by the accountancy firm PwC. The Vatican said at first that he had resigned. But then Milone claimed that he had been ousted by the “old guard” after discovering potentially illegal activities. The Vatican responded by accusing him of spying on the private lives of superiors.
After a confident and effective start, the Secretariat for the Economy ran into opposition within the Vatican and the Pope steadily reduced its powers. Its prefect, Cardinal George Pell, was forced to return to Australia in July.
The Council for the Economy, composed of cardinals and lay experts, has so far dodged controversy. But then it is only a policy-making body. Its members are based outside Rome, so it is hard for them to keep track of the Vatican’s intricate financial operations – let alone enforce decisions.
The Vatican Financial Information Authority has also avoided scandal, thanks to its quick-witted president René Brülhart. A report last week by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s monitoring body, praised the institution for clamping down on illegal behaviour. But Moneyval said it was puzzled that, although the Vatican court had frozen the assets of some accounts at the Vatican bank, “the Holy See had still not brought a money-laundering case to court”. In other words, the Financial Information Authority is good at sniffing out culprits, but it lacks teeth.
Days before the Moneyval report, the Vatican confirmed the departure of yet another senior financial official. Giulio Mattietti, who had helped the Vatican to gain its passing grade with Moneyval in 2012, was removed as the Vatican bank’s deputy director general and reportedly escorted out of the Vatican. No one has explained why. Perhaps Mattietti, like Milone, will break his silence in due course.
As 2017 ends, it is clear that the financial reforms launched by Benedict XVI and energetically taken up by Pope Francis in 2013 are floundering. But defeat is not inevitable. In the New Year the Pope and his advisers should consider taking stock of the past four years. Which reforms have succeeded and which have failed? Who or what is the biggest obstacle to financial transparency? How can Vatican money – which ultimately belongs to the People of God – be best used for charity and evangelisation?
It is only by asking searching questions that Vatican financial reform can get back on track again.
Tempting the media
Pope Francis was recently asked in an interview about the way the French bishops have altered one of the petitions of the Our Father, changing “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation”. He commended the change, seemingly, but this led to the unfortunate misunderstanding – amplified by respectable media outlets such as BBC News website – that the Holy Father was urging the universal Church to change the entire prayer, and seemingly to update, even correct, the words of Jesus Himself.
The Our Father, or as some call it, the Lord’s Prayer, exists in two versions, that of St Matthew’s Gospel and that of St Luke’s. Currently, in this country, we follow the Matthean version in an archaic and traditional translation, which uses word such as “thy” and “hallowed”, which are not in general use today.
Does this matter? Not really, as we all know what the words mean, or should, and they have become sanctified by habit and tradition. Moreover, we share them with other Christians. Any change might well bring more loss than gain.
The idea that the Pope can at will change the basic Christian prayer, or even change what was given by the Lord, is false, though of course any Pope can authorise a new liturgical translation. But popes do not change doctrine or make doctrine up off the cuff. They, as much as the rest of us, are servants of God and servants of the Magisterium. They are there to explicate and defend the perennial teaching of the Church.
The way people have misread Pope Francis’s words about the Our Father indicate that the world in general, and even some Catholics, do not have a firm grasp of what the papacy is for. We should consider whether frequent papal interviews help to dispel – or, in fact, contribute to – such misunderstandings.
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