Yesterday Pope Francis released “Faithful and Prudent Administrator,” a document that creates a new office called the Secretariat for the Economy. Francis has tapped Australian Cardinal George Pell to head up the Secretariat, but there will also be a 15-person Council for the Economy working with Pell. Seven of the 15 will be lay Catholics with financial expertise. Finally, there will be a new auditor-general. Reuters:
The auditor-general will have wide oversight powers “to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time,” a statement said.The Secretariat, effectively a new ministry, will be headed by Pell and guided in policy making by a new 15-member Council for the Economy made up of eight prelates and seven lay financial experts “with strong professional financial experience” from around the world, according to the statement.
The creation of a new office might not seem very important. Committees are often where reform goes to die. But in appointing a powerful auditor-general and bringing lay experts in, Francis has laid the groundwork for greater transparency in Vatican finances than we’ve seen before. What’s very clear from this move is that Francis has placed a priority on cleaning up the Vatican’s finances as his first internal task. The new Secretariat is only the most visible of a series of financial reforms Francis has already pushed. It’s an interesting choice given how drastically reformers have pushed for the church to address the sex-abuse scandal first.The measure of his success will ultimately be how well he address both of these areas, but it’s encouraging that he’s taking steps on one of them. The big question about Francis has been whether he is a reformer as well as a media darling. The answer, at least on finances, is increasingly looking like “yes.”