Fight against Pope and Vatican reform intensifies

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and bureaucracies don’t support reform. The election of Pope Francis almost two years ago with a key mandate for reform of the Church’s central administration marked somewhat of a watershed. Neither St John Paul II nor Benedict XVI were particularly recognised as Popes who had much interest in governing the Roman Curia. In contrast, Pope Francis has insisted that he is determined to reform and streamline the Roman Curia.

This reform will be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Vatican officials, but, of course, there will be resistance from those who stand to lose the most in any reform. We can see some of that in the strategic leaks that have emerged in the Italian press about the Pope’s point-man on financial reform Cardinal George Pell.

The Italian press reported that Cardinal Pell was ordered to explain his department’s expenses to Pope Francis. The Vatican denied this describing the report as a “complete fiction”.

Rather than overspending, as alleged by critics following the leak of the department’s expenses to the Italian weekly L’Espresso, the Secretariat for the Economy had in fact operated under budget, the statement said.

L’Espresso reported that the secretariat, created by Pope Francis in February 2014 to bring order and scrutiny to the Holy See’s labyrinthine financial practices, and headed by Cardinal Pell, had run up around €500,000 in expenses in the first six months of its existence.

The total reportedly includes spending on computers and printers, but also a €2,508 bill from Gamarelli, the well-known clerical tailor.

To someone used to the generally mild approach taken by the
English-speaking press, the L’Espresso article is quite remarkable for the personal nature of the attacks on Cardinal Pell.

It’s clear that some people in the Vatican are unhappy that after decades of virtually no oversight and seemingly endless financial scandals, reform is coming.

Resistance to Dr Pell has intensified since he revealed to fellow cardinals that he had discovered hundreds of millions of euro that had been ‘tucked away’ and therefore did not appear on the Vatican balance sheet.

It’s clear that the leaks in L’Espresso are designed to discredit Cardinal Pell and by extension Pope Francis. The leaks are an attempt to short-circuit Vatican reform.

Expect more of the same. As Vatican reform continues to gather pace, Francis and his lieutenants will face more resistance from those determined to ensure ‘business as usual’. It’s a battle that Pope Francis must win.