ROME — After appointing its first-ever independent auditor, the Vatican says it’s continuing to clean up the scandal-plagued finances of the headquarters of the Catholic Church by establishing a working group to study its income and investment practices.
That group may be a prelude to the much-discussed idea of combining the Vatican’s various portfolios under one asset management office, for better quality control and a greater return on investments.
This and other initiatives are designed to fulfill Pope Francis’ major reform goals: financial transparency and accountability.
According to the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, a new body created under Francis, financial reform can make more economic resources available for the mission of the Church, especially in service of the poor.
Since he was elected, Francis has taken several steps toward achieving this goal, such as creating three financial oversight bodies in 2014: the Council for the Economy, the secretariat, and an independent auditor general.
Earlier this month, the Vatican announced the hiring of Italian Libero Milone, former chairman and CEO of the Italian branch of the global auditing firm Deloitte, as its first auditor general.
Milone, 66, has worked as an accountant in major firms in Britain, Italy, and the United States. He’s also worked as an auditor for the Rome-based United Nations World Food Program and major Italian companies such as car maker Fiat and the Wind telecom group.
As an independent and autonomous auditor, Milone will be able to request information from every Vatican office, including the secretariat and the council, and he reports directly to the pope.
In the words of Australian Cardinal George Pell, hand-picked by Francis to head the financial reform, Milone will be free to “go anywhere and everywhere.”
Praised by some and criticized by others, the reform led by Pell so far has unfolded mostly in English, with Milone being only the third Italian to be appointed since the Australian prelate was made the Vatican’s first secretary of the economy.
Since his arrival in Rome one year ago, Pell has ruffled feathers by moving aggressively to implement new transparency and accountability measures, including publicly disclosing the presence of assets that he claimed had previously been hidden by various departments.
More recently, Pell also drew fire from a royal commission in Australia investigating his handling of child sexual abuse cases while serving as the archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001.
To date, however, there’s been little indication that criticism has prompted Pope Francis to rethink his commitment to Pell as his chief financial officer. The Secretariat for the Economy under Pell is responsible for day-to-day management, reporting to the Council for the Economy.
The Council for the Economy is a 15-member body, eight of whom are cardinals and seven lay experts with backgrounds in law, economics, administration, or other relevant fields.
With equal voting rights, the prelates and the lay experts are responsible for the Vatican’s overall policy. US Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston in Texas, is the lone American on the council.
The latest financial initiatives came after a review of the 2015 budget. They will be staffed and supported by the secretariat, but had to be approved by the council. Beyond the income and investments review, a Council of Human Resources working group and an IT office will also be created in the upcoming months.
The former will be directed to improve the use of human resources within the Vatican, to clarify roles and responsibilities, and train employees. The Vatican, like Italy, has historically inspired jokes about the laid-back work ethic of its employees.
The most famous was (allegedly) uttered by Pope St. John XXIII, who, when asked how many people work in the Vatican, reportedly responded, “About half!”
The IT panel will review existing systems and develop plans for improving them.
In addition, new criteria and approval arrangements have been adopted for “extraordinary transactions,” that is, transactions in excess of 500,000 Euros ($562,350 US).