ROME — Two personnel moves announced by the Vatican Tuesday marked the first time Italians have claimed senior positions under Australian Cardinal George Pell, the pope’s hand-picked reformer and someone for whom breaking the Italian monopoly on money management has been a keen priority.
Italian Rev. Luigi Mistò was named secretary of the Administrative Section of the Secretariat for the Economy, the new department Pell heads, after being appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 as head of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA).
In practice, the new job means that Mistò will no longer manage the real estate portfolio of the Vatican, officially estimated at around $700 million, though some observers believe the real total may be several times higher. Instead, Mistò will implement procurement systems and manage Vatican personnel, in both cases reporting directly to Pell.
Mistò has been working closely with Pell since the Australian prelate was tapped personally by Pope Francis to head the Secretariat for the Economy in 2013.
At one stage, Pell’s idea was to place APSA directly under the umbrella of his Secretariat for the Economy. That plan had to be abandoned, however, mostly on the grounds that the administration of the Vatican’s real estate portfolio can’t be unilaterally changed because it depends on treaties with Italy.
The second of Tuesday’s appointments was the Rev. Mauro Rivella, also an Italian, who will replace Mistò at APSA. He was initially named by Francis in 2013 to work in a lower-level capacity in the same department.
Before joining APSA, Rivella was the undersecretary of the Italian Bishops Conference.
Like Mistò, Rivella is seen largely as one of “Pell’s guys.” Last March, Rivella contributed a chapter to a book on transparency in the administration of Church goods that had a foreword by the Australian prelate.
A Vatican official close to Pell, speaking on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to comment on personnel moves, told Crux that both appointments are “terrific” for the reform cause.
“These are very experienced men, result-oriented, competent, honest … and with great recommendations on the things that still have to be faced,” the Vatican official said.
A second source said that although the appointments were largely “predictable,” especially in the case of Mistò, they are significant because of the “Italian factor.”
Praised by some and criticized by others, the reform led by Pell so far has unfolded mostly in English, since members of the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy, and the independent auditor general – all institutions created by Francis – up to this point had no Italians in any important positions.
The unwillingness to work in Italian, in an environment where it’s otherwise the dominant language, led in the eyes of many observers to misinterpretations and consumed a vast amount of energy in miscommunication.
Some observers see the appointment of two Italians as a sign of Pell beginning a second stage of the reform, one that will succeed only if embraced by the Italians.
For obvious reasons, Italians represent a large share of the Vatican’s payroll, and most departments of the Vatican bureaucracy have only Italian as its official language.
Others see Tuesday’s moves as Italians trying to reclaim positions they consider rightfully theirs.
The appointments of Mistò and Rivella come as Pell’s secretariat is finalizing the Vatican’s budget for 2015, scheduled to be released during the spring. It will be the first one carried out under statutes approved by Francis last February, seen at the time as the pope giving his endorsement to Pell.