VATICAN CITY — The eight-member council of cardinals set up by Pope Francis to advise him on Church governance and reform of the Roman Curia has presented preliminary proposals to the Pope on economic and administrative reform at the Holy See.
The Vatican said the Holy Father is now free to “follow or to modify” the proposals, the fruit of two commissions he set up last year.
The reports were presented this week to the so-called “C8” council of cardinals during their Feb. 17-19 meeting in Rome — the third such meeting since the council began its work in October 2013.
The three-day meeting, which mostly took place in the St. Martha guesthouse, began with a thorough examination of the first report, drawn up by the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See.
Three representatives of the commission presented their findings to the cardinals on Feb. 17 — the results of eight months’ work. Their report was further examined in the afternoon, but without the three representatives present.
‘Simplification and Rationalization’
The task of the commission of seven lay experts and one Curial official has been to study the organizational and economic health of the Holy See, in order to draft reforms of Holy See institutions. Their more specific aim has been “simplification and rationalization” of existing bodies and “more careful planning” of economic activities throughout the Vatican.
Some of the most serious cases of misconduct have taken place in this area in recent years, mostly associated with the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, an official charged with allegedly plotting to smuggle 20 million euros ($30.8 million) from Switzerland to Italy, was an accountant at the APSA.
The office, created by Pope Paul VI in 1967, looks after properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function.
The commission has offered specialist advice and strategic solutions for improvement, so as to avoid the “misuse of economic resources” and to “improve transparency.” The body has also been working with the C8 to draft a plan for the reform of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus — John Paul II’s instruction on the general running of the Roman Curia.
Reforming the Vatican Bank
On Tuesday, the cardinals turned their attention to the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR). The cardinals heard from representatives of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for Works of Religion, which was also set up by Pope Francis last year.
The commission’s task has been to provide the Holy Father with an “exhaustive” report into the juridical standing and activities of the IOR so that it can be better harmonized with the mission of the Church and the Holy See. The report is also aimed at helping the process of reform.
Composed of five people, the commission includes two U.S. citizens, Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon and Msgr. Peter Brian Wells, who usually serves as the Vatican’s deputy chief of staff. Cardinal Raffaele Farina, who heads the commission, presented the work carried out so far.
The Vatican said the cardinals received the report with “great interest” and heard details about the current situation of the institute and the problems that it must face.
“Suggestions were offered for future changes, although no decisions were made following the hearing,” the Vatican said, adding that one of the key points was “the mission of the IOR in relation to the action of the Church in the world and not only from the perspective of economic performance.”
The IOR has had a checkered history: It most famously became embroiled in a banking scandal in 1982, and, between 2009 and 2012, it was subject to a money-laundering investigation, although the allegations were never confirmed. In 2012, IOR’s then-president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was unceremoniously ousted. The true reasons behind his dismissal remain murky at best, and the episode is still a mystery, even to those directly affected.
On Wednesday, the commission representatives, the C8 and the so-called C15 council of cardinals set up by John Paul II to oversee Holy See finances and the governorate of Vatican city state, met in the Sala Bologna of the apostolic palace. Representatives from two commissions briefly presented their reports.
The C15 will hold its ordinary meetings Feb. 24-25 to discuss the matters within its remit. The Vatican said the final day of the C8 meeting was for “communication, information and coordination.”
Cardinals ‘Worked Intensively’
Holy See Press Office's director, Father Federico Lombardi, said the C8 cardinals "worked intensively” over the three days and have taken a “number of questions” into consideration as well as “formulated proposals to be presented to the Holy Father in various fields.”
He added that it will now be up to the Holy Father “to follow or to modify these proposals, but the council has completed its task.”
The Holy See spokesman stressed it is important to bear in mind that the two commissions’ aims are different but that they “both fit into the contextual reality of the Holy See.” For this reason, he said, the Holy Father wishes to obtain “an overall view with regard to the reorganization of its governance and structures.”
The next C8 meetings will begin the day after the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII, April 28, and will last for three days. The fifth meeting is scheduled for July 1-4.
The Vatican says much work is still to be done and stressed the cardinals “have in no way completed their reviews of the different dicasteries of the Holy See,” a major next step in the reform process.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.