The Wall Street Journal has noticed that the ambitious financial reforms begun under Pope Francis have run out of steam. Reporter Francis X. Rocca notes that the diminished authority of Cardinal George Pell, the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, is "a sign that the Vatican's established interests have gained the Pope's support..."
After initially giving Cardinal Pell broad authority to clean up the chaotic Vatican finances, Pope Francis has now trimmed back that authority, in the process reaffirming the powers of the Secretariat of State and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See—which are, not coincidentally, two of the Vatican offices most frequently associated with cronyism and bureaucratic intrigue.
“My job is to keep pushing,” Cardinal Pell told the Journal. “Some people don't like change, some people don't like a diminished authority.” He added gently that “there's always the hypothetical possibility that you've got some people who have something to hide.”
Not every observer of Vatican affairs would be so diplomatic. As I have argued recently, given the track record, it is only a matter of time before the eruption of the next Vatican financial scandal. In the past, questionable transactions could be partially explained away as the isolated errors of misguided clerics who did not properly understand the complexities of the financial world. But now that the Vatican bureaucracy has beaten back an attempt to make every office strictly accountable for its stewardship, that innocent excuse is no longer plausible. When the next set of dubious transactions comes to light, there will be suspicions not only that a Vatican official was feathering his own nest, but also that he and his colleagues deliberately thwarted the audit that might have exposed the corruption earlier. In other words, to the possibility of a financial crime, there will be added the more ominous possibility of a cover-up. (more...)