Damian Thompson

Francis backs Pell’s reforms: centuries of expense-fiddling at the Vatican are brought to an end

Francis backs Pell's reforms: centuries of expense-fiddling at the Vatican are brought to an end
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Phew! I was worried that the smear campaign against Cardinal George Pell mounted by the pigs at the Vatican trough would persuade Pope Francis to water down Pell's plan to impose proper accounting procedures on the Curia. But today Francis published the legal framework for the reform and – well, I can't improve on the reporting of the Vatican correspondent of Crux website, Inés San Martín:

Pope Francis decided the future of his financial reform on Tuesday, issuing a new legal framework for three key oversight bodies that largely confirm the authority of the man he put in charge of his clean-up operation, controversial Australian Cardinal George Pell.

The decision came in the form of a new legal framework approved by the pontiff for the Vatican’s three financial oversight bodies that he created in 2014: The Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy, and an independent auditor general.

Despite mounting calls from some quarters of the Vatican to rein in Pell, such measures are largely missing from the new statutes, which were signed by Pope Francis on Feb. 22 and became effective March 1.

The only major concession is that while the Secretariat for the Economy has been confirmed as responsible for procurement and personnel, it will not administer Vatican real estate. That function, which had been assigned to Pell’s department last year, will be returned to another Vatican department.

In general, the results are likely to be taken as a show of confidence in Pell at a time when the 73-year-old prelate had found himself under mounting fire.

Since his arrival in Rome one year ago, Pell had ruffled feathers by moving aggressively to implement new transparency and accountability measures, including publicly disclosing the presence of assets that he claimed had previously been hidden by various departments.

Let's be quite clear why Pell is 'controversial' and 'embattled'. It's nothing to do with bogus claims, which I discuss here, that the Australian enjoys a lavish lifestyle. He most certainly does not.

Cardinal Pell is embattled because, from now on, Curial officials will have to account for their spending. He's brought an end to a culture of fiddling your exes which makes 20th-century Fleet Street look like a Presbyterian knitting circle.

I caught the tail end of the hacks' jamboree and – how shall I put this? – not every restaurant bill submitted was as strictly business-related as the expenses form implied. But at the Vatican you usually didn't have to submit any receipts at all.

How we young reporters would have enjoyed that modus operandi! And now spoilsport George Pell wants to see proof that Church money is being spent on spreading the Gospel as opposed to foie gras over crisp squares of toast. He'll take a lot of flak for this 'Anglo-Saxon' puritanism over the next few months. But it's too late. He's won. I do feel a bit sorry for the restaurants near St Peter's, though. How will they survive now that the old guard at the Curia have to dig into own pockets for that second bottle of Chianti?