In a lengthy feature article, “This pope means business” (Aug. 14, 2014), Fortune magazine offers a detailed look at what Francis has done to “restructure the Vatican’s scandal-plagued finances.” It’s an informative, if occasionally annoying, piece. For instance, the author, Shawn Tully, drags out many of the tired and not-so-helpful storylines about Francis being the “people’s pope” whose gentle (even carefree) approach to doctrine contrasts with the harsh and dogmatic approach of Benedict. And:
The church has often promoted issues that tended to divide Catholics more than unite them. And the backlash made Rome look defensive, as many bishops and cardinals viewed their role as defending Catholic doctrines against a hostile culture of secularism.
Also, in a rather misleading paragraph:
By contrast, Francis’s upbeat, quotable approach and emphasis on charity over doctrine have quickly made him perhaps the most talked-about and admired person on the planet. (Fortune named him No. 1 on its World’s Greatest Leaders list earlier this year.) His famous “Who am I to judge?” declaration on homosexuality distanced him from Benedict’s severe criticism of gays. Francis could be called the first modern pope. His Twitter account, @Pontifex, boasts 4.3 million followers in nine languages. And his message is universally appealing: The paramount duty of the church and its faithful is to aid those in need.
Because, as we all know, Benedict never talked about charity—that is, if you discount his first encyclical, which was about charity. And most of his other writing and addresses. And, no, the paramount duty of the Church and the faithful is not to aid those in need, but to bring all men into communion with God, through Christ, and into the fullness of the Kingdom. But, hey, theology is boring and ultimate questions don’t grab headlines.
That said, there are some very interesting information about what is going on in the Vatican when it comes to money. For instance:
As an outsider who had expressed contempt for the Vatican’s status as an insular “royal court,” Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, then archbishop of Buenos Aires and a native of Argentina, was the overwhelming choice. Pope Francis—the first pontiff to take the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the poor—came in with a plan. His central idea was revolutionary: Money matters are not a core competency of the clergy, as the record shows. So he began replacing the old guard of cardinals and bishops with lay experts who are now largely setting strategy, heading regulatory oversight, and running day-to-day operations.
Indeed, Francis has brought in some of the biggest brand names in the world of business. KPMG is implementing uniform, internationally accepted accounting standards to replace the Vatican’s previous crazy quilt of bookkeeping. EY (the former Ernst & Young) is scrutinizing management of the Vatican’s stores, utilities, and other municipal services. Deloitte & Touche now audits the accounts at the Vatican bank. And Spencer Stuart has recruited top management talent from around the globe. Heading the effort to restructure media operations, assisted by McKinsey & Co., is Lord Christopher Patten, a former head of the BBC and the last British governor of Hong Kong.
When Pope Francis puts a cardinal in charge of something, the choice is typically an outsider. His most important appointment so far, either lay or religious, is Cardinal George Pell, an Australian whom he recruited from the archdiocese of Sydney. Pell now heads the newly formed Secretariat for the Economy, and Pope Francis has granted Pell power over finances that no official has remotely held before. He’s responsible for setting and enforcing all budgets and managing all investments. The son of a heavyweight boxer, Pell, 73, is an imposing figure who is short on niceties and brutally frank about the necessity to radically pare costs.
Pope Francis has a complex but pragmatic view of money. “Money is useful to carry out many things, for works to support humanity,” he has said. “But when your heart is attached to it, it destroys you.” His humble lifestyle follows those precepts. He resides in a one-bedroom, second-floor suite in Casa Santa Marta overlooking the entrance. (Benedict, the former pope, lives nearby in a converted monastery called Mater Ecclesiae and occasionally sends Francis notes with feedback on his interviews.) Visitors say the pope’s lights go on at 4:30 a.m. He’s frequently spotted in the buffet line, tray in hand, at the Santa Marta dining room, where the cuisine isn’t fancy—it offers a choice of two main courses for lunch and dinner, and features Italian specialties such as pasta con pomodoro and pollo arrosto. He takes no holidays, explaining that if the poor can’t take vacations, why should he?
The pontiff does not talk about balance sheets and cash flow. He leaves the numbers to the experts. His forte is leadership. Like any good chief executive, he knows that the culture of an organization is established at the top. And he is always well prepared. “He has five or six sources of information on every subject,” says Austen Ivereigh, author of a forthcoming biography of Francis, The Great Reformer. “It’s impossible to hoodwink him.” By getting the views of many participants—both Vatican officials and lay advisers—in all of his reform initiatives, the pope quickly determines if his instructions are being implemented or blocked by the old guard. If he sees resistance from old-school directors, he’ll quickly make changes, as when he replaced the entire board of the AIF, the financial regulator.
One of his rules is that big donors and companies that do business with the church should get no special treatment. Before he took charge in Buenos Aires, the archdiocese was a large shareholder in Argentine banks, and the banks regularly granted their ecclesiastical investor loans on easy terms. As cardinal, Francis denounced the arrangement as a blatant conflict of interest and sold all the archdiocese’s bank holdings. He also refused to attend fundraising dinners, usually regarded as one of a cardinal’s top jobs. His aversion to catering to the wealthy didn’t stop with his ascension to the papacy. It’s a Vatican tradition that the Secretariat of State, which receives donations from the rich on the pontiff’s behalf, would reward big donors by arranging special audiences and masses with the pope. Pope Francis ended the practice.
There is much more, and it worth reading for those curious about the specifics.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!