Cardinal Pell appointed to senior Vatican post

Cardinal Pell appointed to senior Vatican post

Peter Westmore

Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal George Pell to a new senior role in the Vatican, managing the Holy See's financial affairs which have been the subject of repeated criticism for many years as lacking transparency and proper accountability.

The Vatican's Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), also known as the Vatican Bank, has been at the centre of international concern. The bank was established to serve Catholic institutions, religious orders, clergy and employees or former employees of Vatican City, but its scope widened over the years to permit others to use it.

The European Central Bank expressed concerns about the bank some years ago, because at the time it did not conform to Europe's anti-money laundering standards. In 2010, the Central Bank of Italy told Italian banks to suspend dealings with the Vatican Bank because it did not comply with these standards.

That year, Rome magistrates investigating possible money laundering froze €23 million ($35 million) deposited by the Vatican Bank in two Italian banks. The Vatican Bank said it had merely been transferring its own funds between accounts in other countries. The money was eventually released.

One of the last official acts of Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 was to appoint a German lawyer and financier, Ernst von Freyberg, as President of the Board of the Vatican Bank, with a mandate to reform its operations.

However, concerns with the Vatican's finances extend beyond the Vatican Bank, to the general administration of the Holy See where modern financial management has been clearly absent. This is where Cardinal Pell's responsibilities will lie.

The 72-year-old Cardinal Pell will effectively have the role of Finance Minister in the Vatican. His official title is Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See and he will work in Rome.

His successor as Archbishop of Sydney will now have to be appointed by Pope Francis.

Speaking from Rome, Cardinal Pell said he was deeply honoured to have been appointed by the Holy Father to head the new Secretariat.

Pope Francis announced the new arrangements for economic and administrative affairs after receiving a report on the review conducted by the expert panel he established last year.

The review's recommendations were endorsed by both the council of eight cardinals established to advise the Pope on governance and the committee of 15 cardinals which oversee the Vatican's financial affairs.

The recommendations include changes to existing management structures, improvements in financial planning, reporting and auditing as well as the more formal involvement of senior lay experts.

The meetings were followed by an extraordinary consistory of all the world's cardinals on February 20 and 21, at which they were briefed on the Holy Father's plans for reorganisation of the Curia, followed by the elevation of 16 new cardinals at the consistory on 22 February.

It was after these meetings that the Holy See announced the appointment of Cardinal Pell to head the new Vatican Secretariat.

Cardinal Pell described the reorganisation as making important and very significant moves in the right direction.

"If we make better use of the resources entrusted to us we can improve our capacity to support the good works of the Church, particularly our works for the poor and disadvantaged.

"The review has highlighted that much can be achieved through improved financial planning and reporting as well as enhancements in governance, internal controls and various administrative support functions. I am looking forward to implementing these recommendations as requested by the Holy Father.

"I have always recognised the need for the Church to be guided by experts in this area and will be pleased to be working with the members of the new Council for the Economy as we approach these tasks.

"We need to be open to expert advice and aware of any opportunity to improve the way we conduct our financial administration.

"It is an enormous task and it is important we embrace and implement the recommended changes as soon as practicable."

Cardinal Pell's legacy

The Cardinal leaves behind an Archdiocese that has extended its work dramatically since his appointment as Archbishop of Sydney in 2001.

The Archdiocese now has two vibrant seminaries, two Catholic universities, nearly 70,000 students in its schools as well as extensive programs for the support of tertiary students, young people and families.

Services to the poor and marginalised have also been expanded with CatholicCare, the welfare arm of Archdiocese now conducting over 140 programs through a network of centres across Sydney.

The Archdiocese was on the international stage in 2008 when the Cardinal hosted World Youth Day and welcomed Pope Benedict and the young people of the world to Sydney for the largest gathering in Australia's history.

In 2011 Pope Benedict was also welcomed by Cardinal Pell to Domus Australia, the new pilgrim centre in Rome, where he blessed and officially opened the new facility.

After the election of Pope Francis in 2013, he appointed Cardinal Pell to a committee of eight cardinals to advise him on the governance of the Church.

After the February consistory, Cardinal Pell returned to Sydney and is expected to take up his new post in Rome by the end of March.

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