+ Cardinal George Pell,
2 Mar 2014

Most people have not heard much about the Roman Curia, the civil service in the Vatican, but Catholics are well aware of the scandals which have plagued the Pope's civil service off and on for some decades.

The most spectacular lapse, worthy of a Dan Brown novel, was when Paolo Gabriele released 6000 pages of secret Vatican documents. As personal assistant to Pope Benedict he had access to the desks of the Papal secretaries.

More recently a Roman monsignor was caught attempting to bring 20,000,000 euro from Switzerland. He is now in jail pending trial.

Pope Benedict set up a commission of three senior cardinals to investigate the whole situation, including the regular leaks, or advance notice given to the press about imminent Roman decisions. These have diminished radically, but not ceased, since Francis became Pope.

It is common knowledge that the cardinals, when gathered together before the Conclave to elect Pope Francis, were insistent that the Vatican finances and procedures were to be modernized and reformed.

In the most important decision of his pontificate (after deciding not to live in the Papal apartments) Pope Francis has just announced a far-reaching reform of the Vatican financial system.

Most important of all the measures was the decision that these basic policies would not be decided by any individual cardinal, but by a Council made up of eight cardinals, and seven senior financial experts, all lay people, from around the world.

The involvement of senior non-clerical lay men or women, not as advisors but as full voting members, is an important development for the Church. Such senior business people bring a financial expertise rarely found in Cardinals or Archbishops. I believe they will prove to be a most effective deterrent to corruption in both the short and long term.

The proposals were crafted by an international team of experts, headed by Joseph Zahra of Malta and including George Yeo, former Foreign Minister in Singapore, to introduce modern best practices into an ancient system which had evolved in an haphazard and uncoordinated way. As the Vatican Bank scandals have shown over the years there is also a whiff of corruption.

The chief executive of the finance secretariat (a job which the Pope has given to me) will not be a member of the Council of the Economy. As chief executive my task will be to persuade the Council of the wisdom of our proposals, just as the Vice Chancellor has to persuade a University Senate, which makes the decisions.

The Auditor General, who can intervene anywhere at any time, will be independent of the chief executive (called Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy) as will the Financial Services Authority, the Vatican equivalent of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

None of this is rocket science, and most seems to us to be an expression of rudimentary common sense, but officials in other countries sometimes brings a different set of perspectives, and sometimes even a different sense of what is appropriate behavior.

Senior key personnel will be appointed from around the world and, in another breakthrough, the official working languages will be English, as well as Italian.

The story is only beginning with many twists and turns lying ahead. But the preparation of consolidated budgets, regular controls on expenses, the monitoring of investment policies and ensuring a good rental return on properties should release millions of dollars to support the work of the Church and fulfill Pope Francis' ambition to give greater help to the battlers.

P.S. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to write these weekly columns in the Sunday Telegraph during the past thirteen years. I thank all the readers who have expressed their appreciation, even when they added that they didn't always agree. And to those who disagreed, sometimes very strongly indeed, I thank them for their attention.