When Pope Francis’ advisers report back on the battle to overhaul the Vatican’s sprawling finances, they regularly bring poor tidings. As they huddle with the pontiff, the aides voice their frustration at the resistance of the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Catholic Church and which Francis has called “the last court that remains in Europe,” saying it’s filled with careerists and gossips. The bureaucrats are pushing back against Francis’ drive for transparency and accountability, refusing to give up the privileges that control of money grants them, according to officials who asked not to be named as these discussions are confidential.
The Roman Catholic leader hears them out, then urges them to forge ahead. “I don’t understand any of this stuff. Talk to each other, and don’t lose your sense of humor,” he says. “But we have to keep going. I won’t stop.”
Cleaning up Vatican finances has been a priority for the 83-year-old Argentine pontiff from the start, say his advisers. Just months after his inauguration in March 2013, Francis set up a task force to scrutinize the Institute for Religious Works. The entity frequently referred to as the Vatican bank, is so opaque it’s been called “the most secret bank in the world.” The following year, Francis created a Secretariat for the Economy, vesting it with authority overall economic activity for the Holy See and Vatican City.
The pope has recruited executives from the worlds of business and finance to fill top jobs in the Curia as part of a drive to bring the Vatican’s accounting and budgeting procedures up to international standards. Momentum on reforms has accelerated this year, with several papal edicts, including one establishing a new code for public tenders to ward against corruption and conflicts of interest.
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