Lessons from Pope Francis’ Financial Reform Efforts – Vatican
Cleaning up the Vatican’s finances has been a long, complex and personally costly process for Pope Francis. Despite many obstacles, he persevered and that determination is starting to pay off.
On July 3, the Vatican announced it would prosecute 10 people, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, for suspected financial crimes.
This is an unprecedented moment that marks a potentially decisive chapter in Francis’ reform efforts. Never before has a cardinal been prosecuted in this manner for financial irregularity – a sign that responsibility is sought regardless of clerical rank.
In the past, someone in his position might have expected to be immune from scrutiny. The Sardinian prelate held the post of “sostituto” in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, the equivalent of a papal chief of staff, from 2011 to 2018, and was one of the closest collaborators of François.
He now faces charges of embezzlement and abuse of power, with the Pope personally approving prosecutors’ decision to investigate and indict the cardinal. Cardinal Becciu, who strongly denies any wrongdoing, will stand trial at the Vatican alongside nine other people accused of money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of power.
The lawsuit comes after a two-year investigation into the Secretary of State’s € 350million investment in expensive property in London’s Chelsea. The deal, which involved an assortment of middlemen and companies, was disastrous and would have cost the Vatican millions.
A trial, due to start on July 27, will take place in a specially designed courtroom in the Vatican Museums, as the other Vatican City State court is too small to accommodate the defendants and their lawyers .
Throughout his eight-year pontificate, Francis issued a series of laws and regulations aimed at combating corruption and conflicts of interest in the Vatican. He removed the legal privileges accorded to bishops and cardinals who work at the Vatican to ensure they are tried by the same tribunal that judges normal criminal cases, rather than by an elite panel of fellow prelates.
It set a cap of € 40 for gifts Vatican employees can receive and issued new regulations on awarding external public contracts to ensure transparency and fight potential corruption. Francis also developed and strengthened the regulatory framework that oversees the financial transactions of the Holy See.
Despite this, a persistent criticism of the Vatican’s financial management has been the lack of prosecutions for wrongdoing, especially those in senior positions. In other words: it’s good to have laws and regulations to prevent malpractice, but if they aren’t enforced, what do they mean?
This is why the decision to pursue the London real estate business is so important; it shows that the Holy See is walking the path of financial responsibility. Some may wonder why scandals and financial problems continue to plague the Vatican, and if things have really changed during this pontificate.
Church sources have often told me that a root cause of the difficulties is an outdated system in which multi-million dollar investments are overseen or managed by prelates who have not been financially trained. Too often, they are not fully aware of their financial control responsibilities.
Regarding the London property, the leadership of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State signed the agreement which was investigated. Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the secretariat “are considered victims” in this case, with Vatican prosecutors ruling that the cardinal and his deputy (Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the sostituto), had not been “actually informed” of the transaction details or made aware of the legal ramifications. This supports the point on the need for financial professionals to oversee church investments.
Following the London scandal, the Pope ordered that the management of the resources of the Secretariat of State be transferred to the APSA (the Heritage Administration of the Apostolic See), which controls the majority of the assets of the Holy See . Number two in this department is Fabio Gasperini, accountant and auditor with 25 years of experience in financial services. He is the first unordered person to hold this position.
What Pope Francis has learned from his financial reforms is that effective systems, trained professionals, and strong law enforcement are the way to ensure prudent management of church funds. But Francis also believes that no one is beyond the mercy of God, and on Holy Thursday the Pope took the surprise decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the private chapel of Cardinal Becciu’s apartment. in the Vatican. Francis’ pastoral gesture was also a reminder of the law of reconciliation: by forgiving one is forgiven, and it is the merciful who will obtain mercy.