Two days ago, Pope Francis made the extraordinary announcement that he was creating an entirely new office in the Vatican: the Secretariat for the Economy.
It’s the biggest change to the curia in about three decades.
Even more interesting is who Pope Francis chose to run it: George Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney.
I hope at this point it comes as no surprise that the pope’s selection for this huge responsibility is one of the most orthodox cardinals in the college and also a strong proponent of liturgical continuity (as you can see).
First Archbishop Chaput, now Cardinal Pell — Pope Francis is on a roll!
But my, how the Lord treats those he loves! Like Archbishop Chaput, Cardinal Pell faces a huge task when it comes to reorganizing the Vatican’s finances.
Cardinal Pell is a tough chap, no doubt, he played professional rugby as a young man. But moving around the world at age 72 to take on one of the most complicated tasks in Rome is daunting, to say the least.
Still, I agree with John Allen that this appointment shows Pope Francis’ savvy. If anyone can handle this job, it’s Cardinal Pell. He will be assisted by eight bishops and seven laypeople. He will also be assisted by a Secretary-General, who has yet to be appointed. More importantly, Cardinal Pell will report directly to the Pope and only be answerable to him. There’s only one other Secretariat in town that gets to do that –the Secretariat of State– and he’s not under him either.
And things are moving fast. Cardinal Pell is asked in the official announcement, to “start work as soon as possible.” He will be in Rome by the end of next month.
Here are some more of the duties of the Secretariat that I haven’t mentioned yet:
1. Establishment of a new Secretariat for the Economy which will have authority over all economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State. The Secretariat will be responsible, among other things, for preparing an annual budget for the Holy See and Vatican City State as well as financial planning and various support functions such as human resources and procurement. The Secretariat will also be required to prepare detailed financial statements of the Holy See and Vatican State.
5. New arrangements also include the appointment of an Auditor-General, appointed by the Holy Father who will be empowered to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time.
This last point is huge. The lack of accountability has been one of the driving forces behind the decay and dysfunction of the Roman curia. It’s not that the Vatican is full of heretics, it’s that the Vatican is horribly mismanaged. Starting with the money is the right place to start.
There are other notable signs that reform is underway. Damien Thompson at the UK Telegraph shares this anonymous morsel about what is happening at the other Secretariat, of State:
“The new secretary of state has written a letter to all offices saying that massive cuts are being imposed on all Vatican offices. All temporary contracts are being eliminated and no new employees are being hired. And this after the Vatican hired VERY expensive consulting firms. Personally, I know several lay people who could be affected, essentially losing their jobs and life income. More money is being spent on these firms than on the saving. This letter came out with no consultation of any offices and no concern for the difference between, say, the needs of services like Vatican Radio, and curial offices who have been overloaded with commendatori and factotums who deliver flowers and buy snacks.”
Take this with a grain of salt, of course.
Cardinal Pell is going to need our prayers in the weeks and months ahead. But for now, things are feeling like they are moving in the right direction.
Our prayers also go out to the Catholics in Australia; their loss is the world’s gain!
(Props to those who caught my Pell Grant joke in the headline.)
And, because I can’t help myself, one more cappa magna photo: