August 07, 2020

Pope’s reshuffle of the Economy Council: what does it mean?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
A view of St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican flag - credit: Bohumil Petrik
A view of St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican flag - credit: Bohumil Petrik

The new Council for the Economy, tailored by Pope Francis, keeps the same coordinator, brings back two cardinals who seemed out of the game, and finally closes the first era of the reform on the Vatican finances.

On Aug. 6, Pope Francis appointed the new members of the Council of the Economy. The Council is composed of 15 members, eight cardinals, and seven laypeople. The Council replaced the “Council for the study of the economic and organizational matters of the Holy See,” the so-called “Council of Fifteen.”

The Council of Fifteen ceased to exist when the Pope established the Council of Cardinals in 2014.

The new appointments provide some clues to Pope Francis’ modus operandi.

First of all, Pope Francis follows what will be a rule with the Curia reform: no Vatican position can last more than a 5-year mandate, renewable just once.

He has applied this rule several times recently: to Msgr. Luigi Mistò of the Secretariat for the Economy (not to be confused with the Council), replaced by Maximino Caballero Ledo; Msgr. Mauro Rivella, formerly secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, was replaced at the end of his five-year term mandate with a layman, Fabio Gasperini.

Pope Francis also replaced his private Secretary, Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, who stayed one year longer than the 5-year term.

The replacement of the members of the Council was then expected.

Pope Francis, by the way, did not replace all of them. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, stays as the coordinator of the Council. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, has been confirmed until he turns 80 – he is currently 79.

The confirmation of Cardinal Marx likely indicates that the Pope is willing to maintain a certain continuity in the work of the Council. Seen from another perspective, it tells that a five-year mandate is often insufficient to build something new and lasting.

The six new cardinal-members are Petr Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest; Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo in Brazil; Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec; Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm; Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila.

Among the new members, the presence of Cardinal Scherer is particularly noteworthy. Cardinal Scherer was one of the Council of Fifteen members and a member of the Cardinals Commission of the Institute for Religious Works (the so-called “Vatican Bank”).

Pope Francis sent him out from both at the beginning of the pontificate, and his exclusion from the Council of Fifteen was particularly striking. It is worth remembering that the Cardinal-members of the Council were: Reinhard Marx; Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, Daniel DiNardo; Wilfrid Fox Napier; Jean-Pierre Ricard; Norberto Rivera Carrera; John Tong Hon; Agostino Vallini.

Except for Cardinals DiNardo and Napier, all the other initial members are retired. Cardinal John Tong Hon is currently administering the diocese of Hong Kong, but this is just because of the death of his successor and the delay (or prudence) in choosing a successor.

With two noteworthy exceptions, then, the original cardinal-members of the Council were all retired or about to retire.

The return of Cardinal Scherer is therefore food for thought. Has Pope Francis called him back to Rome because of his experience in these matters? If so, why did the Pope reverse his judgment?

Another impressive comeback is that of Cardinal Petr Erdö. Cardinal Erdö is a skilled canon lawyer that Pope Francis chose as the general relator of the two Synods on family. The Cardinal has always taken traditional positions, and it seemed evident that most of the debates that arose during the Synods were beyond his will or imagination.

His comeback to Rome might show Pope Francis’ particular appreciation for his work. Cardinal Erdö has always worked quietly and diligently. He is currently organizing the World Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, postponed to September 2021 due to the coronavirus crisis.

Along with two Cardinals of the “Old Guard,” Pope Francis brought into the Council Cardinal Anders Arborelius, who is a sort of outsider in these matters. The Pope also appointed Cardinal Joseph Tobin a member, and this is a sign of the Pope’s appreciation for the current Archbishop of Newark.

The composition seems to be a balance between old and new that should help the Commission navigate a difficult economic scenario.

This is typical of Pope Francis: he combines old and new to have a balance of powers, and likely not to be targeted by any faction. Each of the members is a guarantee for some ideological positions.

The composition of the lay-members is also more interesting. None of the new members has been involved in the past with the significant reform of the Vatican economy.

The former lay members were Joseph F.X. Zahra; Jean-Baptiste de Franssu; John Kule, Enrique Llano Cueto; Jochen Messemer; Francesco Vermiglio; and George Yeo.

Five out of seven (Zahra, de Franssu, Llano Cueto, Messemer, Yeo) were also members of the Pontifical Commission of Reference for the Organization of the Holy See Economic-administrative structure, the COSEA.

With the new appointments, then, Pope Francis finally shut down the experience of that first Commission. The only survivor is now de Franssu, currently president of the IOR Council for the Superintendency, though he has been on the position for more than five years.

The Commission made a series of proposals for curial reform, hired expensive external consultants, and also proposed the establishment of the Council of Cardinals.

However, the COSEA was also at the center of a scandal when two of its members (the secretary, Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui) were tried in the Vatican for stealing and leaking confidential documents, the so-called Vatileaks 2 trial.

Beyond that, Vatican News and other outlets emphasized that six out of seven new lay members are women. It is worth recalling that the former composition of the lay members of the Council for the Economy was criticized because it included no women. 

However, the new members' CVs are brilliant and should dismiss any chatter about any kind of marketing choice by Pope Francis.

Two of the new members are German: Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof is the president of Hidegaris, a movement of Catholic women in Germany that supports women students with difficulties; Marija Kolak is currently president of the Bundesverbandes der Deutschen Volksbanken und Raiffisenbanken.

Two of the new members are Spaniards: Maria Concepction Oscar Garaicoechea is chairman of the Board of Directors of Azora Capita and Azora Gestion; Eva Castillo Sanz, is a a bord memmber of Bankia S.A., Zardova S.A., Fundacion Comillas-ICAI and Fundacion Entreculturas.

Two are British: Ruth Mary Kelly, currently Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprises at the St. Mary’s University of London; and Leslie Jane Ferrar, who was  Prince Charles’ treasurer from 2015 to 2017. 

The other member is the Italian Alberto Minali, who also was the CEO of the Cattolica Assicurazioni group, an essential Catholic insurance company in Italy.

In the end, the new Council for the Economy has closed an era of the Vatican economic reforms. The new Council will have to face the post-COVID economic scenario, the non-brilliant financial performances of the Vatican finances (according to the IOR annual reports), and the last phase of the Curia reform.

It will not be an easy task. 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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