July 19, 2013

Pope creates new commission of inquiry for finance

It is the third such commission Francis has named in his four months as pope and signals that big changes are coming.

By Nicole Winfield / The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday created another commission of inquiry into the Vatican's troubled finances, naming an eight-member committee to recommend ways to cut waste, improve transparency and fix the Holy See's administrative shortcomings.

It was the third such commission Francis has named in his four months as pope and signaled that big changes are coming as he responds to demands by the cardinals who elected him to overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucracy that runs the 1.2 billion strong Catholic Church.

The Holy See's problems, which have long been acknowledged in church circles, were revealed publicly last year with the leaks of papal correspondence by then-Pope Benedict XVI's butler, which then later appeared in a blockbuster book.

The documents exposed the petty turf battles among Vatican bureaucrats, allegations of corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts and enormous fiscal waste, including the 550,000 euro ($720,115) the Holy See spent in 2009 for its Christmas Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square.

The Vatican said Friday the commission's aims were to "simplify and rationalize" the Holy See administration and better plan its spending.

The commission, made up of seven lay people and a Vatican monsignor, will recommend reforms to avoid wasting money, improve transparency in buying goods and services, better administer the Vatican's vast real estate holdings and ensure correct accounting principles, among other things, according to the legal document creating the commission.

Francis has made clear that he has no tolerance for waste, financial or otherwise, denouncing consumerism and the world's "throw away" culture. He has made reaching out to the world's poor and marginalized with a more missionary church his main priority. He has also proven himself to be a decisive administrator, seeking counsel from others but acting alone.

On the one-month anniversary of his election, Francis named eight cardinals to help him govern the universal church and study an overall reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. The Holy See has been criticized for having offices with overlapping functions which nevertheless operate as individual fiefdoms that don't communicate with one another.

Last month, he named a commission of inquiry into the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, whose top two managers resigned amid a widening money-laundering probe by Italian magistrates and a related scandal involving a 20 million euro ($26 million) money-smuggling plot allegedly engineered by a Vatican monsignor.

Friday's commission into the economic and administrative organization of the Holy See will report to Francis but it will also collaborate with the "Group of Eight" cardinals named in April, the document said. The first meeting is in October.

The Holy See posted a 2.2 million euro ($2.85 million) budget surplus for 2012, an improvement from the previous year when it booked a 14.9 million euro shortfall. The Vatican City State, which runs the profit-making Vatican Museums, post office and supermarket, has a separate budget. Its profits were 23.08 million euros, up from 21.8 million euros in 2011.

Combined, the Holy See and Vatican City State employ about 4,760 people.

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