Vatican officials will be forced to work from a strict new financial rulebook from 1 January 2015, as Pope Francis makes the final push to clean up the Holy See after decades of sleaze.
The accounting manual will improve the Holy See’s financial statements “and harmonise them with international standards”, according to the Vatican Insider website, putting paid to accounting practices which one expert said were “from the Middle Ages”.
Its arrival follows new revelations that hundreds of millions of euros have been found “tucked away” in accounts of various departments of the Holy See without having appeared in the city-state’s balance sheets.
The sums were discovered by Francis’s financial trouble-shooter, Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Cardinal Pell said Vatican departments had long had “an almost free hand” with their finances and had followed “long-established patterns” in managing their affairs.
“Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help,” he said, singling out the Secretariat of State – in effect the Church’s diplomatic corps – as one department that appeared particularly secretive.
The Australian cardinal said there was no suggestion of graft regarding the undeclared sums, but rather evidence of arcane working practices. “It was impossible for anyone to know accurately what was going on overall,” he said.
The Vatican watcher and papal biographer Marco Politi said events showed that Francis was serious about cleaning out the Vatican stables, once and for all.
“What we’re seeing is the determination of Francis to have complete transparency in the way the Vatican operates,” he said. “The latest revelations are good news. It shows Pell is doing a good job. He never stops looking. He’s so energetic that Francis calls him ‘The Ranger’.”
Mr Politi said that once the new financial guidelines were in place, with Pell to police them, the Vatican should finally emerge from the attitudes and working practices that have held sway “since the Middle Ages”.
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
1/12 The Pro-Gay Pope
In just a year, Pope Francis has managed to change the public perception of the Catholic Church, and the stance it takes on civil issues, like gay rights. Despite originally protesting the legalisation of gay marriage in his native Argentina some years ago, he told reporters this year: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
2/12 The Rebel Pope
No other Pope has urged a shake-up of the Catholic Church quite like Pope Francis, a true rebel of the dioceses. Who, incidentally, used to be a night club bouncer.
3/12 The Graffiti Pope
Pope Francis become... SUPER POPE in this Vatican-approved street art. But was he happy with the reference to the fictional DC comic character?"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. So, that's a no, then.
4/12 The Biker Pope
Yes, the Pope used to own a Harley Davidson. And yes, he auctioned it off this year and donated the proceeds to a charity that feeds the hungry in Rome. Very Papal.
5/12 The ‘Blue’ Pope
Dropping the 'F' bomb during Sunday service? Classic Pope Francis. Sadly, down to a Spanish-speaking slip of the Italian language rather than pure bad-assery.
6/12 The ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Pope
That awkward moment when your Papal hat blows off, forcing your barnet into Sesame Street-like spikes. Pope Francis has been there.
7/12 The Chocolate Pope
Imagine the Pope's delight (horror?) when he was presented with a giant chocolate replica of himself outside the Vatican by by students on a chocolatier course at the Accademia of Maestri Cioccolatieri, near Venice.
8/12 The Rock Star pope
The one and only religious leader ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Introducing... Pope Francis.
9/12 The People’s Pope
His U-turn attitude towards sexuality won him Time magazine's coveted Person of the Year accolade, and the cover of gay rights magazine The Advocate.
10/12 The Merchandise Pope
Thongs, mugs, onesies, earrings and even a baby mobile adorned with decapitated Pope heads, the 'Francis Effect' has seen sales of Papal merchandise soar by 200% over the last year.
11/12 The Fashion Pope
The only Pope, as far as we're aware, to be compared to fashion royalty (Karl Lagerfeld. Yes way.) and win Esquire's Most Stylish Man of 2013 award, too.
12/12 The Modern Pope
Let it be said, Pope Francis knows a thing or two about social media. He might be a way off 'doing a Dalai' and opting for Instagram, but he's not above posing for the odd 'Selfie' on Twitter.
Cardinal Pell has said that reforms were “well under way and already past the point where the Vatican could return to the ‘bad old days’”.
But the Vatican still has an important hurdle to climb: gaining the international all-clear for its trouble bank, the Institute for Religious Works (IoR), which has been hit by a series of scandals stretching back to the fraudulent bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosiano in the 1980s.
The IoR has been working with the Bank of Italy and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development “for the Holy See’s inclusion in the so-called White List” – an OECD designation for countries that meet international standards on transparency and tax regulations. But so far its applications for inclusion have failed.
Last year it emerged that as part of the programme to crack down on graft, the IoR had decided to close 900 suspicious accounts. Four of the suspect accounts were linked to the Vatican embassies of Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The account closures followed a judicial report that said the bank was money laundering hot spot.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former senior Vatican accountant who had close ties to the IoR, is now on trial accused of plotting to smuggle millions of dollars into Italy from Switzerland in a scheme to help rich friends dodge taxes. He has also been indicted on separate charges of laundering millions of euros through the IOR.
In June this year Pope Francis sacked the all-Italian, five-man board of the Vatican’s financial watchdog, the Financial Information Authority, and brought in a fresh international line-up.
The IoR is cracking down on security, after suggestions that it was too easy for non-account holders to access funds. Mr Politi said all these initiatives were likely to help it win OECD approval.Reuse content