It is Groundhog Day for Vatican financial reform, again.
On Monday, Pope Francis published sweeping new laws governing Vatican financial dealings, setting new standards for contracts awarded by the city state and curial departments.
The new regulations, published in two parts, explicitly aim to inject transparency and accountability into the often opaque budgeting process of the Holy See and its institutions.
In fact, the new laws are not really that new: They resurrect measures called for during the first days of the Francis pontificate. And now they’re back.
The motu proprio, titled “On transparency, control and competition in the procedures for awarding public contracts of the Holy See and Vatican City State,” comes in the immediate context of a serious financial difficulties for the Holy See.
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a body blow to Church income at every level, from the country parish to the Vatican. Last month, Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, said that the Holy See expects a 30-80% income reduction in the coming year. It is a storm that threatens to sink the Vatican finances, which have run large deficits for years; 70 million euros on a 300 million euro budget for 2018 alone.
The need for practical cost-cutting measures is clear, and the urgency of a comprehensive new system for ensuring value for money in Vatican contracts is self-explanatory.
But within the wider context of Vatican financial scandals, the laws may point to an emerging victory for reformers, after years of setbacks.
In 2014, Pope Francis established the Secretariat for the Economy under Cardinal George Pell. In the years following its creation, the secretariat advanced a comprehensive vision for financial reform, insisting on a wholesale audit of Vatican assets and a review of procurement procedures.
Some in the curia saw those plans as a radical agenda, and Pell was often characterized as a bull in a china shop, out of step with the unique culture and sensitivity of Vatican operations.
Attempts to centralize expenses, standards, auditing and oversight among curial departments were met with fierce opposition, most notably from the Secretariat of State.
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