The temporary selection of a prelate for the so-called Vatican Bank shows Pope Francis is waiting for the advice of the cardinals he tapped as advisors before deciding the fate of the financial institute, according to a source in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
The appointment of the prelate “must not be charged too much with expectations of a reform. The Pope needed to fill a post and wanted to give a signal that he really cares about the IOR issue, but he also showed the sensibility to make an ‘ad interim’ appointment, presumably waiting for the cardinals’ suggestions,” the anonymous State Secretariat source said June 15.
Monsignor Battista Ricca was appointed as prelate for the Institute for Works of Religion, also known by its Italian initials IOR, on June 15.
The prelate serves as a liaison between the cardinals’ oversight commission – composed of five cardinals and traditionally presided over by the Secretary of State – and the council of superintendents, which is made up of five laymen who are bankers or financial experts.
The institute is headquartered inside Vatican City and is entrusted with safeguarding and administering property or funds that are designated by clients to benefit religious works or charities.
The commission of cardinals typically chooses the candidate for the prelate position without the Pope’s formal approval.
But Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office took the unusual step of saying in his June 15 announcement that the appointment was made with the “approval of the Holy Father.”
According to the prominent Italian Vatican expert Sandro Magister, this would mean “it is a prelate of the Pope, more than of the IOR.”
Actually, the prelate post remained vacant since 2010, when the previous prelate, then-Monsignor Piero Pioppo, was appointed papal nuncio to Cameroon and Guinea.
The secretary of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Msgr. Pioppo, received his appointment as prelate for the institute while his boss chaired its oversight commission. At that time, it had already been announced that Cardinal Sodano would leave the post in a few months and be replaced by Cardinal Bertone, the current Secretary of State.
By appointing his secretary, “Sodano kept the institute under his shadow,” said Gianfranco Svidercoschi, the former vice director of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, in a June 17 conversation with CNA.
Before Msgr. Pioppo’s appointment in 2006, the post of prelate was vacant since 1993, when Monsignor Donato de Bonis was made a bishop and no replacement was named.
A monsignor who works in the Vatican’s Curia and requested anonymity explained June 15 that Pope Francis decided to make sure the prelate post was filled to “show his resolution to solve the case” and because “too many rumors had been circulating” about the Institute for Works of Religion.
The new prelate, Msgr. Battista Ricca, is a Vatican diplomat who works in the Second Section of the Secretariat of State and also manages a set of religious houses, including St. Martha’s House, where Pope Francis has decided to live.
Msgr. Ricca and Pope Francis are also friends and reportedly have lunch together every day, making it significant that the Holy Father moved ahead with the appointment, disregarding any chatter about him promoting his friends.
In Svidercoschi’s view, “this proves his will to govern without any external or internal interference.”
Given that the appointment of Msgr. Ricca is temporary, the next moment for assessing Pope Francis’ plan for reforming the Curia will likely be the Oct. 2-4 meeting of the eight cardinals who will advise the pontiff.
They will probably also counsel the Pope on reforming the Institute for Works of Religion, but whether or not this will lead to a complete overhaul remains to be seen.
According to Sandro Magister, that the appointment is “ad interim” proves that “a big reform for the IOR is coming up or at least will be discussed.”
But an even bigger signal that financial reform will continue at the Vatican has already been sent.
This past April 10, the Vatican said it will report on its progress in responding to the Key and Core areas of recommended changes that the European Council’s financial oversight committee, Moneyval, said it should make. The committee had asked only for an update on the core areas.
The recommendations were the result of a voluntary evaluation that Moneyval carried out to help the Vatican comply with international standards on preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
In a June 17 follow-up interview, the same Secretariat of State source said, this fact alone “lets us presume that the whole Vatican financial system will be reformed.”
If that reading is correct, the cardinals “might suggest to reform, change or even to abolish the IOR,” the source added, but the financial institute will always have to fulfill the requirements of the Vatican’s oversight financial system.