On Saturday, Pope Francis released an apostolic letter in the form of a motu proprio. In this letter, he announced the transfer of several financial competencies within the Vatican from the Secretariat of State to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA).
The Secretariat of State has been embroiled in several criminal and moral scandals related to its appropriation of Vatican funds. In 2019, it was revealed that the Secretariat of State had invested more than forty five million euros in an investment fund called the Centurion Global Fund, which had ties to two Swiss banks that were being “investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars,” according to Catholic News Agency. Centurion was also tied to the production of “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic that included a lurid homosexual sex scene.
Then, in October, Italian police arrested Cecilia Marogna on suspicion of embezzlement and misappropriation of Vatican funds. Marogna was an associate of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, whom Francis demoted after the cardinal was accused of embezzlement and nepotism. Cardinal Becciu denies the allegations.
Effectively, the motu proprio does three things to reform the Vatican’s financial administration. First, it calls for the transfer of assets from the former office of the since-demoted Cardinal Becciu, the Secretariat of State, to the APSA, by January 1. Where it’s “not possible or convenient” for the Secretariat of State to transfer ownership of the accounts—what constitutes an inconvenience is left undefined—the dicastery must give the “exclusive powers of ordinary and extraordinary administration” for the accounts to the President of APSA by February 4.
The document’s inexact language about “convenience” is troubling, but may prove inconsequential. Even those accounts for which a transfer of formal ownership is deemed “inconvenient” will still, according to the motu proprio, be under the effective control of APSA and subject to auditing.
Second, the motu proprio consolidates most of the Holy See’s liquid assets—which had been spread across several accounts—into three “sub-accounts”: “Obolo di San Pietro” (Peter’s Pence), “Discretionary Fund of the Holy Father,” and “Entitled Funds.” The latter sub-account is set aside for those funds whose destination is restricted by the will of donors or regulatory strictures.
Third, all but a select number of the Vatican’s “funds and bank accounts, movable and immovable investments, including shareholdings in companies and investment funds” are made subject to “monitoring, supervision and direction” from the Secretariat of the Economy and Vatican-appointed auditors.
While Pope Francis’s encyclicals often tend toward verbosity, this motu proprio is relatively clear, precise, and unambiguous. Bad actors in the realm of finance depend on an atmosphere of chaos and secrecy to conceal their misappropriation of funds and self-dealing. Subjecting all but a handful of the Vatican’s financial statements to oversight minimizes the chance for such impropriety.
It also recognizes the genuine scandal caused when the Vatican is seen to be financially associated with ventures that contradict its moral teachings. What are the simple faithful to think when it is revealed that the Holy See is doing business with a fund that bankrolled the Elton John biopic? It is one (still terrible) thing for the legion dissenters within the hierarchy to compromise the Church’s teaching. It is quite another for the Holy See itself to give the appearance of sanction to behaviors the Church has condemned for two millennia, much less preside over a financial apparatus that is embezzling and misappropriating funds. Surely the Holy Father knows our Blessed Lord’s warning for those who “scandalize one of these little ones.”
No less than George Cardinal Pell has praised Francis’s latest efforts to root out corruption. “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances,” His Eminence said in September. “He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”
The faithful have the right to expect that the Holy See will comport itself with appropriate rigor in financial, moral, and spiritual matters. Its human element will err, because its administrators are mere men. Still, the lay faithful are not wrong, pharisaical, rigid, or indecent for holding the hierarchy to basic standards of propriety. It is not too much to ask that the fallen, human Vicar of Christ on Earth and his fallen, human associates run Church affairs with Divine caution and prudence—that they disburse the money of the faithful in a way that brings glory to God and His Church. Mistakes are to be expected. So, our Blessed Lord reminds us, is perfection.
[Photo credit: Vatican Media/CNA]