George Pell’s critics ask if Australian cardinal has gained too much power in Vatican
A spectre is haunting the corridors of the Vatican: has Cardinal George Pell gained too much power?
Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Pell to head a new office set up to ensure greater transparency in Vatican finances following a series of scandals. It was asked to prepare its statutes and proposed control of all Vatican economic affairs after years in which the various departments had a measure of financial independence.
But recently, the head of the Vatican Council for Legislative Texts, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, has questioned Cardinal Pell’s proposed reforms, with other critics of the former archbishop of Sydney viewing his actions as grandstanding.
Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s criticism carries weight, as his department assesses the statutes of Vatican offices, including Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.
For Cardinal Coccopalmerio, some checks and balances are needed on the powers of the secretariat. He claims that investment management and the control over it should be handled by a separate bodies and that two assistant auditors be added to the proposed one to ensure greater autonomy and impartiality.
Last Friday Cardinal Pell and his two main lay assistants presented a report on their secretariat to more than 100 cardinals who were in Rome for the creation of a new batch of cardinals.
He rejected Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s criticism and proudly announced a new era of efficiency and transparency. He underlined that his office had discovered in the Vatican €1.4 billion ($2 billion) which had not been in the balance sheets but would be in future.
They will more than cover a worrying pension-fund gap. No new financial scandals have emerged since Cardinal Pell was appointed.
Cardinal Pell admitted that there was some resistance to the new course from the Secretariat of State, the key Vatican office, and the Governorate of Vatican City.
The resistance didn’t end there. Another member of the secretariat, the South African cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, added later that there was also opposition from the Congregation for Evangelisation which is responsible for the Mission territories and has substantial resources.
But Cardinal Pell claimed his report was well-received and he amplified on it in interviews to theBoston Globe, the French Catholic paper, La Croix, and the main Italian daily Corriere della Sera, where he made the front page.
For Vatican staff not enamoured of Cardinal Pell, this is grandstanding.
They see it as an example of what Francis condemned recently as one of the sins of curialists: “in the name of transparency … making a display of being more competent than others”.
Some months ago the London Catholic Herald had an article about Cardinal Pell’s discovery of Vatican funds not included in balance sheets.
In new interviews, Cardinal Pell has come out with an updated version of that story which raised hackles in the Secretariat of State when it originally appeared.
The secretariat explained that the funds had always been known to the successive popes and were reserves kept for emergencies.
Cardinal Pell was not available for comment but the Secretariat of the Vatican provided a statement.
“It is Cardinal Pell’s intention that a couple of times a year the Secretariat for the Economy will explain to the media what is being done,” the statement said.
“The Holy See is now publicly committed to transparency and modern accounting standards.”
“The unlisted funds were not ‘discovered’ but reported to the Secretariat for the Economy by the various Vatican offices and departments.
“Less than half the total unlisted funds were with the Secretariat of State,” the secretariat said.
Cardinal Pell has interpreted his role not just as taking charge of the Vatican’s financial bodies, such as the Vatican Bank and the Administration of the Vatican Patrimony (APSA), but also the finances of other Vatican offices. His will be a crucial voice in future developments such as the reshaping of Vatican communications: through its press office, newspaper, book publishing, television and radio.
He already has a tight grip on expenditure. Inevitably this rankles. Paymasters can’t expect to be loved. A veteran curialist said to me wryly: “We didn’t expect an Australian mafia to take over here.”
Cardinal Pell’s clout may have been dinted by his opposition to the liberal stand on communion for divorced Catholics favoured by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Pell reportedly has said: “Jesus was tough regarding marriage and I am too.”
Last year he contributed to a book opposing a changes concerning marriage which will be a priority topic in the world Synod on the Family to be held in Rome in October.