Pope cleans up Vatican finances

Further proving his credentials as a new broom in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis announced on Monday that he plans to radically simplify the Vatican's dated bureaucracy and financial systems.

In an effort to put an end to the embarrassing turf wars, office politics, and corruption scandals that have come to light in recent years, the Pope has created a new office, the Secretariat for the Economy.

The office will be headed by 72-year-old Australian Cardinal George Pell. Speaking in the New York Daily News, Vatican commentator Rocco Palmo described Cardinal Pell as "a pugilist, a brass-knuckle guy".

He will answer to a new 15-member economic council, consisting of up to eight cardinals from various regions of the world and seven lay experts.

His office will have sole responsibility for administration, personnel, and business management at the Holy See, a contrasting state of affairs compared to the plethora of financial fiefdoms seen previously.

It will also have responsibility for drawing up the Vatican budget and will be able to conduct surprise audits.

But the most important change perhaps is the new overall account statements, which will be unified in a single document and will adopt more widely used "accounting standards and generally accepted financial management and reporting practices", according to a Vatican statement quoted in the Catholic Herald.

This will be a welcome change to previous Vatican accounting practices which have been generally considered difficult to comprehend and unhelpful to the task of taking forward the Catholic Christian mission to the world.

Palmo was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying "The winner is the Pope, who will get to see one financial statement as opposed to five nobody can understand."

"The losers are the old guard."

This is a trend Pope Francis is continuing. Last November, he hired Ernst & Young to help better organise the Vatican's finances, and in mid January this year he removed four of the five Cardinals responsible for overseeing the Vatican's bank.

That wave of discipline was in response to a series of scandals that had emerged in 2012 following documents leaked by Pope Benedict XVI's butler, Paolo Gabriele.

Following an investigation into Mr Gabriele, a homosexual clergy sex ring was uncovered.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, the Bishop of Salerno, was arrested in January for using a Vatican bank account for money laundering purposes.

Potential for these sorts of problems had long been suspected by outside sources. Italian banks stopped trading with the Vatican bank in 2010, after the Bank of Italy demanded that the Vatican bank comply with strict anti-money laundering regulations.

This week's reforms do not affect the bank directly, but a commission set up by the pontiff made recommendations on reforms earlier this month. As of yet however, no decisions have been taken on the matter.

Questions have been raised over the appointment of Cardinal Pell due to accusations relating to paedophilia.

In 2002 he was accused of molesting a 12-year-old altar boy during his time as a seminarian, but the accusation was deemed unfounded after an inquiry by a retired Australian supreme court judge.

Sweeping these concerns aside, Cardinal Pell remains optimistic about how the new changes can improve the Vatican's operations.

In a statement quoted in the Guardian, Cardinal Pell said: "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."

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