'Francis is different, he means it': Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell

'Pope Francis is very different,' says Cardinal Pell. 'Not only does he mean it, but he has the capacity to get it done.' Though previous Vatican efforts at financial reform have come and gone, he insists this one is for real, reports The Boston Globe.

If the Vatican were, say, Walmart or Microsoft, the practices its new financial czar is vowing to implement would hardly seem revolutionary.

For instance, Australian Cardinal George Pell says he wants 'two sets of eyes on everything,' meaning the same people won’t be making budget decisions and policing them, and that he’ll impose quarterly reviews to ensure departments are living within their means.

The thing is, the Vatican isn’t Walmart. That’s certainly true in terms of financial footprint, because, despite the mythology of its vast wealth, the Vatican doesn’t have especially deep pockets. Its annual budget is just over $300 million, and its 'patrimony,' what American colleges would call an endowment, is just over $1 billion. Its art is glorious but produces limited revenue, mostly the roughly $100 million earned by the Vatican museums in ticket sales and licensing fees.

What money the Vatican does have, however, often isn’t handled especially well. That’s an incubator for scandal, and the Vatican has seen more than its fair share.

Such meltdowns were part of the reason the cardinals chose an outsider as Pope one year ago. Now Francis has put Pell, a former Australian Rules Football star who blends the mind of a theologian and bishop with the instincts of a linebacker, at the point of attack for reform.

Pell’s explicit ambition is to save 'millions, if not tens of millions' of dollars each year by implementing rational accounting measures, turning the Vatican, as he put it, from an 'embarrassment' into a 'good model.'

The Pontiff announced last week a new Secretariat for the Economy, with responsibility for preparing an annual budget and overseeing detailed financial statements. It will be governed by a board made up of eight cardinals and seven lay people, mostly financial experts. Its staff will be composed of international professionals, and, in a nod to that internationalisation, the working languages will include English as well as Italian.

Overseeing it all will be Pell, among the few senior churchmen viewed as having the strength of character to take on the Vatican’s deeply ingrained, and often deeply flawed, ways of doing business. 'There’s never been anything like this in the Vatican that’s explicitly designed to foster a system of checks and balances,' Pell said.

'It will be a change for some people who bring a different level of understanding and patterns of thought. There will probably have to be formation courses to explain what’s needed.'

FULL STORY Pope’s new financial fixer has instincts of linebacker (The Boston Globe)

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