Pope Francis’s legacy is increasingly becoming bound up in the public eye with eternally recurring issues of marriage and sexuality. This has become especially true after the recent Synod of Bishops, in which both liberal and conservative Catholic saw a Pope determined to shift the Catholic Church’s rhetoric and practice towards a more “liberal” stance. But the noise over the culture wars inside and outside the church obscures a massive, and massively unsexy, reform Francis is pushing through behind the scenes. At the Boston Globe‘s Crux project, John L. Allen Jr argues that a hugely overlooked part of Francis’s legacy-in-the-making is his ongoing work on cleaning up the Vatican’s finances.Almost from the moment he took office, Pope Francis started moving on the corrupt financial and banking procedures that plagued, and still plague, the Vatican, taking important steps towards more effective bank oversight and cracking down on money laundering. His efforts won the praise of financial experts, watchdogs, and journalists, but never quite made headlines. Now he’s taken a further step by releasing new standard operating procedures for all Vatican departments. The new procedures seem obvious to us—they include a requirement for each department to produce an annual budget “providing a reliable picture of its assets and expenditures”—but they are revolutionary in their context:
For one thing, it’s almost impossible to overstate how much of a break with the past this represents inside the Vatican, where money management always has been more about personality and patronage than good accounting practice.In truth, the Vatican’s history of financial scandal is only to a limited extent related to occasional acts of brazen corruption. More often, it’s a product of a culture in which all sorts of objectively suspect behaviors aren’t even seen as problematic — steering contracts to friends or relatives instead of abiding by a competitive bidding process, for instance, or not asking a monsignor where the wads of cash come from that he wants to park in his Vatican bank account.
That simple, basic reforms requiring greater financial transparency should be so revolutionary shows just how bad things had gotten at the Vatican. Slowly but surely Francis is fixing the mess he inherited. That may not please gentry liberals eager for the Pope to validate their worldview, but it’s a huge story, and one Francis should get much more credit for than he so far has.