This has been an annus horribilis for Vatican financial reformers: a year of relentless bad news. To understand the events of the past 12 months, we must go back to the conclave of 2013. Pope Francis emerged with a mandate to reform the Holy See’s murky finances. He swiftly created three powerful new bodies: a Council for the Economy, a Secretariat for the Economy and an independent Auditor General. They joined the Vatican Financial Information Authority, founded in 2010 by Benedict XVI, in the struggle to end the Vatican’s reputation as a den of financial iniquity. Today two of these four bodies are now adrift.
The Auditor General, Libero Milone, stepped down suddenly in June. He had been asked to carry out an audit of Holy See finances in 2016 after the Vatican abruptly cancelled an external review by the accountancy firm PwC. The Vatican said at first that he had resigned. But then Milone claimed that he had been ousted by the “old guard” after discovering potentially illegal activities. The Vatican responded by accusing him of spying on the private lives of superiors.
After a confident and effective start, the Secretariat for the Economy ran into opposition within the Vatican and the Pope steadily reduced its powers. Its prefect, Cardinal George Pell, was forced to return to Australia in July.
The Council for the Economy, composed of cardinals and lay experts, has so far dodged controversy. But then it is only a policy-making body. Its members are based outside Rome, so it is hard for them to keep track of the Vatican’s intricate financial operations – let alone enforce decisions.
The Vatican Financial Information Authority has also avoided scandal, thanks to its quick-witted president René Brülhart. A report last week by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s monitoring body, praised the institution for clamping down on illegal behaviour. But Moneyval said it was puzzled that, although the Vatican court had frozen the assets of some accounts at the Vatican bank, “the Holy See had still not brought a money-laundering case to court”. In other words, the Financial Information Authority is good at sniffing out culprits, but it lacks teeth.
Days before the Moneyval report, the Vatican confirmed the departure of yet another senior financial official. Giulio Mattietti, who had helped the Vatican to gain its passing grade with Moneyval in 2012, was removed as the Vatican bank’s deputy director general and reportedly escorted out of the Vatican. No one has explained why. Perhaps Mattietti, like Milone, will break his silence in due course.
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