Cardinal Pell's Vatican economy office gets new statutes

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, says Mass at the St. Lorenzo Youth Centre in Rome, Jan. 30, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, says Mass at the St. Lorenzo Youth Centre in Rome, Jan. 30, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- Statutes for the Vatican's three finanical oversight bodies were released earlier this week, largely consolidating the influence of the Secretariat for the Economy and its prefect, Cardinal George Pell.

Signed by Pope Francis Feb. 22 and having come into effect March 1, the statutes of the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy, and the Office for the General Auditor provided a legal framework to the three new Vatican offices.

The structure of Vatican finances are then shaped this way: the Holy Father is the supreme authority, and under him there is the Council for the Economy, which provides guidelines to the Secretariat for the Economy.

The Secretariat for the Economy will work as an oversight body to which all Vatican departments, as well as the Vatican City State administration, will submit their financial reports.

Aside them, there will be an office of the general auditor, which will be composed by three members and will audit all balance sheets.

As economic reform appears to continue the commitment to financial transparency started under Benedict XVI, a source in the Vatican financial branch explained to CNA March 4 that “what has changed is the benchmark.”

The source stressed that “before, there was not a Council for Economy meant to provide guidelines and policies.”

All the statutes came into force “ad experimentum,” and so it may be guessed that further modifications to the statutes will be made in the future.

The statutes of the Secretariat for the Economy stressed that the secretariat is “the dicastery of the Roman Curia with competence over the administrative and financial control and oversight over the Roman Curia dicasteries, the institutions connected or referred to the Holy See and the Vatican City State administration.”

In an unusual move for the Roman Curia, dominated as it is by the Italian language, the statutes confirm that English, too, will be a working language in the secretariat.

The statutes also underscore that the Secretariat for the Economy and Secretary of State join their efforts, but the Secretariat of State has “exclusive competence over the relations with States and other international subjects.”

According to the statute, the Secretariat for the Economy guarantees the autonomy of all Vatican entities and administrations.

This means that all the dicasteries will have their autonomy in managing their assets, but they will have to accurately report about their revenues and balance sheets to the Secretariat for the Economy, according to international standards.

The Secretariat for the Economy is composed of two sections, one “for control and oversight,” and the other an “administrative section”; and each of these sections will be headed by a prelate secretary.

The first sections controls and oversees all activities concerning financial planning, expenditures, preventive and final balance sheets, investments, management of human, financial and material resources of the entities under the control of the Secretariat.

The second section will provide “guidelines and procedures” to optimize resources, cut expenditures and rationalize expenses.

As the Secretariat for the Economy had enrolled the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See's ordinary section, it will not manage real estate, as was initially previewed.

According to the source “there had been a certain discussion whether managing real estate may bear a conflict of interest for the Secretariat, since it is responsible for oversight.”

In the end, this function will be returned to another Vatican department.

There are at the moment two options: the establishment a brand new department to manage APSA real estate, or the returning of the management to APSA itself.

More will be understood in May, when it is likely that new statutes of APSA will be provided by the Council for the Economy.

The statutes of this latter describe the Council as a “body with competences to oversee the structures and the financial activities of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of the Vatican City State administration.”

The functions of the Council will be those of controlling the preventive, final and consolidate annual balance sheet of the dicasteries and to forward them to the Pope for approval. The Council will meet four times a year and will not be able to make any legislative change on financial matters, though its opinion may be influential.

The statutes of the general auditor also came into force March 1. The Auditor will be sided by the “adjunct auditors,” so that they can be more independent.

As they provide a legal framework, the statutes do not mention the establishment of a Vatican Asset Management, that is, a central office to manage Vatican investments.

In fact, the VAM is “still an idea,” that has not been accomplished or completely designed. According to the source, the VAM will be entrusted by the Vatican bank to invest part of the money deposited in its accounts.

During May, the Council for Economy should draft the new statutes for APSA and outline a new shape of Vatican finances.

As the Secretariat for the Economy has already taken over most of the functions of the Prefecture for Economic affairs, it is likely that the Prefecture will be then suppressed.

Tags: Cardinal Pell, Secretariat for the Economy