ROME— Continuing his attempts to clean up the Vatican’s finances, Pope Francis on Saturday released a document defining the relationship between two key offices: one to administer the Vatican’s resources, the other to provide oversight on how that administration is carried out.
In February 2014, Francis established three new bodies as part of the Vatican’s economic overhaul: a Council for the Economy to set policy, a Secretariat for the Economy to oversee implementation, and an Office of the Auditor General to provide independent verification.
Statutes for the three were approved “ad experimentum” in 2015, with the pontiff acknowledging that the new system was still being built and could take different shapes.
Long before these three were created, the main financial player in the Vatican was the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which managed the Church’s real estate assets and its investment portfolio. As part of the early reform in 2014, many of those functions were transferred to the new secretariat.
The document released on Saturday, a motu proprio, or legal degree, recalibrates the relationship between the Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell, and APSA, presided over by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno.
A letter accompanying the text says that “the fundamental principle at the base of the reform” is a clear distinction “between control and vigilance, on the one hand, and administration of goods, on the other.”
Francis writes that the Church’s temporal goods are to help the institution fulfill its role in accordance with canon law: divine worship, care for the decent support of the clergy and other ministers, and works of charity, especially toward the needy.
The pope writes it’s “fundamental” that the body doing the surveillance has to be “unequivocally” separated from the one being surveilled.
In effect, the motu proprio stipulates that most responsibility for direct financial administration will be returned to APSA, while the secretariat’s role will be to monitoring and analyze APSA’s activity. Pell’s department is also to make recommendations and to guarantee that the adequate corrective measures are put in place when needed, to avoid any damage to Vatican assets.
In addition, the Secretariat for the Economy will have to approve “any act of alienation, purchase or extraordinary administration” APSA intends to make. However, the motu proprio says, it must be done “according to the criteria established by the Higher Authority,” meaning that for the most important transactions, the pope will personally review it.
Francis also writes that he expects “mutual cooperation” from the heads of the two offices concerned, meaning Calgagno and Pell, adding that issues that may arise will be resolved by a papal delegate.
The document doesn’t say who this person is, but it’s expected to be Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, who headed a working group that produced the motu proprio.
In effect, the motu proprio is intended to put an end to internal tensions that arose since the Secretariat for the Economy was created. The practical result of the papal ruling is that the office loses some of its administrative power, although it retains an oversight role.
As a result of Saturday’s edict, the only area of Vatican finances in which Pell’s secretariat will still have a direct role is human resources and payroll. Matters such as asset management, purchasing and contracts, and support services such as IT, have been returned to APSA.
Control over the Vatican’s real estate holdings had already been given back to APSA in early 2015 by Pope Francis.
Pell critics had argued that allowing the same department to exercise both oversight and administration violated the idea of a separation of powers, while supporters believed that putting APSA in charge of purchasing for itself was a conflict of interest.