Advantage the old guard
There is only one way to interpret the legislative text issued by Pope Francis on Saturday: as a rebuff to Cardinal George Pell. The motu proprio stripped the Vatican’s financial tsar of administrative powers given to him just two years ago.
In 2014 the Pope had transferred certain responsibilities from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (Apsa), the body overseeing Vatican property and investments, to the Secretariat for the Economy, run by Cardinal Pell. The Vatican old guard deeply resented this reform, which reduced their influence and boosted that of a man they regard as a crude interloper. They lobbied remorselessly for a return to the status quo – and on Saturday they got it.
This is the second victory this year for a group that was deeply unsettled by Cardinal Pell’s commitment to total financial transparency. In the first, they unilaterally halted an external financial audit overseen by the Big Four accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. They then persuaded the Pope to cancel the external audit entirely.
The old guard has used friendly media to present its drive to reclaim power as a wholly reasonable attempt to ensure that the Vatican’s financial fortunes are not in the hands of one man. They talk about checks and balances, and the need for cooperation and collegiality. This might be more convincing if they hadn’t also engaged in a vicious campaign to undermine Cardinal Pell in the Italian media. Last February, the cardinal’s expenses were leaked to L’Espresso, in an unconvincing effort to smear him as a lavish spender who nevertheless required Vatican officials to provide receipts for every cappuccino. Why has Pope Francis, who was elected to clean up Vatican finances, apparently sided with a group that resists
Some insiders would like nothing more than to drive Cardinal Pell out of office reform and uses gossip – a practice he detests – to achieve its aims? We await an adequate answer. For Pope Francis has said, time and again, that he is committed to overhauling the Vatican’s deeply corrupted economic system. After his election, he invited Cardinal Pell to Rome to lead the fight. But now, three years on, financial reform appears to be slipping – and perhaps even going into reverse.
Cardinal Pell has promised to serve his full five-year term, stepping down in 2019. The old guard would like nothing more than to drive the 75-year-old out of office before then and replace him with a more pliant figure. If they were to succeed, we would know that the struggle for real, sweeping financial reform was well and truly over.
But what incentive does the cardinal have to remain when his opponents seem to have the Pope’s ear? The old guard will not be content with thwarting the external audit and clawing back Apsa’s powers. They are likely to resist the Secretariat for the Economy on every front.
The group’s next target is likely to be the procedures draw up by Cardinal Pell’s team to monitor payments of petty cash and track expenditure. The draft rules are intended to apply to all Vatican departments, but it would be no surprise if certain dicasteries were now given exemptions or the policies weakened to the point of meaninglessness.
Let there be no doubt: the financial reform demanded by the world’s cardinals (and laity) before the last conclave is in peril. We should pray that Pope Francis is able to fulfil his mandate and that the Vatican’s resources will serve the many, not the entrenched few.
Moments of truth
It is a cliché that truth and love enhance rather than contradict each other. But that cliché was beautifully vivid in the lives of two 20th-century Catholics who last week moved closer to canonisation.
Their lives took different directions: Josef Mayr-Nusser, a layman who will be beatified in March, protested against the Nazis, was sent to Dachau and died of dysentery aged 34; Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, who has been declared Venerable, entered seminary in his teens and served faithfully as a priest in California,
before being hit by a car, aged 60, in 1991.
But both had a dedication to God’s truth on the one hand, and the corporal works of mercy on the other. Inspired by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, Mayr-Nusser became the leader of Catholic Action in his diocese, and devoted himself to visiting the poor. He told members not to be preachy, but to speak to the destitute with true compassion. But at the moment of truth, he refused to swear an oath to Hitler and so lost his life.
Bishop Gallegos exhibited many of the same virtues. He was known as the “bishop of the barrios” for his heroic work in the poor Hispanic districts of California. As a priest, he would be seen at the weekend chatting to the street gangs. And inseparable from the bishop’s commitment to the margins of society was his defence of the unborn. He attended pro-life rallies and publicly prayed for the conversion of abortionists.
The bishop and the layman lived, superficially, very different lives. But we can ask both of them to intercede for us with the God of love and truth.
CATHOLIC HERALD, JULY 15 2016 3