The Vatican bank’s propensity for getting itself entangled in shady financial deals is one of the long-running scandals that have helped erode the Catholic Church’s credibility. Pope Francis is getting serious about financial reform, however, and we’ve seen him working busily to rein in the bank for some time now. Now he’s made an even bolder move: naming all-new experts to the Financial Information Authority, the Vatican’s primary “financial watchdog agency.” The WSJ reports:
The four new board members, which for the first time includes a woman, are from Italy, Singapore and the U.S., as well as Franco-German national.They replaced an all-Italian board made up of five members that had been named by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. The old board was associated with the financial establishment tied to Pope Francis’ predecessor […]The new board gives the AIF a clearly more international profile. It includes Juan Carlos Zarate, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a former head at the U.S. Treasury combating terrorist financing and financial crimes.The other new board members are Marc Odendall, who has French and German nationalities, and who has worked for Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan Chase in the past before going into philanthropy; Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, an adviser to the president of Singapore; and Maria Bianca Farina, an Italian specialized in insurance.
This new blood is so crucial precisely because the financial corruption reflected the power of the permanent Vatican establishment. Long-serving bureaucrats who flourish in the nooks and crannies of the world’s oldest and, in some ways, most complicated institution get more bold in the twilight of a papal reign. When the pontiff is too old or too sick to keep track of all the goings on in the Holy See, they really go to town.They took advantage of Pope Benedict’s increasingly weak control in just this way to further crooked ends, but the abdication of Benedict changed everything. Benedict’s replacement by the vigorous and determined Francis means that the bureaucrats are now on the defensive. They have lost the opportunity to entrench themselves that they would have had if Benedict had followed tradition and stayed in office as his health and perhaps ultimately mental acuity slowly waned. Now, Francis is clearly doubling down on reform.Catholics and non-Catholics alike should welcome the change. While the reforms at the bank are higher profile, they are only one element of a reform movement intended to reinvigorate the Church and give it the flexibility and clarity needed for effective participation in the 21st century. There were times in European history when an overweening Church threatened freedom of conscience and fought against the spirits of democracy and egalitarianism. But in today’s world, the Church, whatever one thinks of its positions on particular issues, is one of the pillars of the civilization of liberty, and a powerful friend of the dignity of human persons. By reforming the Church, Francis is doing more than serving his flock. He is making a contribution to the well-being of people of all faiths and no faith all over the world.