EUROPE

In Vatican finance reform rules, pope cements power for Cardinal Pell

Pope Francis backs the Secretariat of the Economy and its head, Cardinal George Pell

Pope Francis has taken action that appears to confirm his faith in the controversial head of a task force he created to clean up the Vatican's finances.

On the pope's orders, new legal statutes were published Tuesday cementing most of the powers that were given to the Secretariat for the Economy, which Francis set up a year ago and is headed by the outspoken Australian Cardinal George Pell. The statutes went into effect Sunday.

The Vatican's hitherto murky finances will be overseen by the Council for the Economy, made up of eight prelates and seven lay people. The council will formulate policy, and the Secretariat for the Economy will carry it out. An independent auditor will be given free rein to check the accounts of Vatican departments.

Pell, who has said he discovered millions of euros that did not show up on the Vatican's books and has suggested that Italian accounting is slipshod, has ruffled feathers and faced accusations of centralizing power at the new secretariat, designed to bring transparency to the Vatican.

Proof that he was making enemies within the Vatican's bureaucracy came Friday when an Italian magazine published leaked documents suggesting Pell had spent more than half a million dollars in six months on his new department, flying business class and paying assistants large salaries, while spending $2,800 on robes at a Rome tailor and more than $50,000 on furniture.

The Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, described the leaks as "undignified and petty," and the secretariat issued a statement Saturday saying that it had operated under budget since its creation. Reports that Pell had been ordered by the Pope to explain his expenses were "complete fiction," the statement said.

In drawing up the new legal framework for the secretariat, Francis ignored a suggestion from within the Vatican to create a group of cardinals to oversee Pell's work, a solution that would have reduced his power and that of the Council for the Economy.

The framework also requires the use of both English and Italian as working languages, rejecting an Italian-only proposal that would have favored the Vatican's Italian bureaucrats.

But Pell did not get everything he wanted. The secretariat loses control of the Vatican's real estate holdings, which it took over last year.

One Italian analyst said he did not see the statutes as a total victory for Pell.

"These statutes reveal a collegial result with no winners and losers," said Andrea Tornielli, the coordinator of the Vatican Insider website. "There will be no super-ministry with powers of both management and supervision, but Pell does receive a lot of power."

"This has not been a case of good Anglo-Saxons against bad Italians, and not all those opposed to Pell were necessarily opponents of transparency," he said.

To defend Italian bureaucrats, Tornielli cited Paul Marcinkus, the American archbishop who ran the Vatican's bank and was indicted in the 1982 failure of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano after $1.3 billion of its assets disappeared. "His approach to finance was debatable," Tornielli said.

Kington is a special correspondent.

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