Just when you thought Pope Francis couldn’t get any more popular, he goes and announces what has been described as his “boldest” move yet to clean up the Vatican’s scandal-plagued financial system.
The pope, who was appointed nearly a year ago with a mandate to overhaul the Catholic Church, said Monday he would invite outside experts to scrutinize the Vatican’s often-murky finances.
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The yet-to-be-appointed auditor general will “be empowered to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Pope Francis also announced the creation of a new body to oversee the Holy See's budgets and financial planning, as well as a central bank.
The new agency will be called the “Secretariat of the Economy” and will be headed by Cardinal George Pell, who is currently the Archbishop of Sydney and who was a vocal critic of the Vatican’s poor accounting standards under Pope Benedict XVI.
It will “have authority over all economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State,” the Vatican said.
The body will implement policies set by a new Council for the Economy, which will include eight senior clerics and seven lay experts with strong financial experience.
Meanwhile, an existing economic department known as the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which manages the Holy See’s financial holdings and real estate, will be turned into the Vatican’s central bank, taking on "all the obligations and responsibilities of similar institutions around the world".
There was no word on the future of the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank, which is currently under investigation over allegations of money laundering.
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“The idea is to streamline the whole system, especially economic affairs, effectively appointing a minister of finance to pull everything together,” an unidentified senior Vatican official explained to the Financial Times.
“There will be more transparency and more professional guidance. It is an ongoing process.”
Pell, who is one of eight handpicked cardinals advising the Pope on how to reform the Holy See, is expected to move to Rome to take up his new post, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed source in the church.
“If we make better use of the resources entrusted to us, we can improve our capacity to support the good works of the church, particularly our works for the poor and disadvantaged,” Pell, 72, said in a statement.
The Pope’s changes will be effective immediately thanks to a document known as Motu Proprio, which is Latin for “by his own initiative.”
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