Balancing the books at the Vatican
Cardinal George Pell is the former archbishop of Sydney, Australia, and the first Prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy. Shortly after the 2013 conclave, Pope Francis appointed him to the body of eight cardinals who advise the Pope on reforming the Church. Pope St. John Paul II created him a cardinal in 2003. Over his ecclesiastical career, Cardinal Pell has held several important positions with the Holy See. He responded in writing to questions from Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How did you feel when the Holy Father appointed you to the advisory board of cardinals?
Obviously I was very much honored, and somewhat apprehensive too, at this particular appointment — assisting the Holy Father with the governance of the Church universal. But it is clear also that the Holy Father sought to have representatives from the universal Church.
How has your previous experience prepared you to lead the Secretariat of the Economy?
I have been in charge of significant Catholic institutions since I was 32 years of age. For over 40 years, I have been involved either as CEO or chairman of the board, including in tertiary education and also Caritas Australia. I have been fortunate to have worked with top businessmen, sometimes national leaders and good accountants. I have learned on the job.
However, it is also fair to say that most financial decisions are not rocket science. I have been a bishop since 1987, and then in 1997, Archbishop of Melbourne, and subsequently Archbishop of Sydney. These are two very large Metropolitan Sees with vast numbers of faithful, not to mention their outreach in schools, hospitals and other care and education facilities.
In Sydney, we had around 10,000 employees and a bigger budget than the Vatican if you include schools, hospitals and welfare. The patrimony of the diocese was large and needed to be well administered and grown. During my time in Sydney, we also successfully ran and financed the World Youth Day in 2008.
Certainly the Vatican, with its particular historical context, has required a specific investment of time and expertise, but it is also true that the cardinals in the last pre-conclave were clear that the finances in the Vatican needed to be put into order.
How much work has gone into overseeing and reforming the Vatican’s finances?
The programme of the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy is built on the groundbreaking work that had been done by the COSEA (Commissione Referente di Studio e di Indirizzo sull’Organizzazione della Struttura Economico — Amministrativa della Santa Sede) — a group of lay experts from around the world set up by Pope Francis; they had investigated the financial situation of the Vatican for 10 months and had made a series of preliminary recommendations.
The Secretariat and Council started from those recommendations and were able to very quickly put in place some basic systems, structures and procedures:
• Providing sound and consistent financial management policies, practices and reporting based on international standards;
• A commitment to transparency and international standards;
• Facilitating decision making at a local level and providing a framework for accountability;
• Strengthening the planning process; and
• Making more resources available for the mission of the Church.
These objectives have been the key factors driving the reform of the finances in the Vatican and we have a team of people within the Secretariat under the direction of the director of the Office of the Prefect, Mr. Danny Casey, working solidly on these proposals.
What are your hopes for the Synod on the Family, which recently ended in Rome?
I am hoping that the magnificent teaching of the Church on marriage, family and sexuality can be better known. I know so many families who are struggling to live their Catholic faith in a world that is increasingly hostile to the truths of the faith.
Unfortunately, it seems that occasionally the message of the Church’s support for the faithful is lost and many of the faithful are confused. The Pope has stated that doctrine will not be touched, but more is obviously needed to ensure that the Church’s teachings can become known.
What do you plan say in your remarks at the Legatus summit?
I will be talking principally about that which I know (hopefully)! I hope to discuss something of the reforms that we are undertaking at the Vatican in order that they might become known outside the Holy See and Italy.
My feeling is that the faithful are grateful for our work, bringing transparency to the Church’s patrimony and enabling the Holy See to pay its way, to meet its running costs, while helping to ensure that more resources can be dedicated to the poor and the needy.
AN ABRIDGED VERSION of this interview was published in the November 2015 issue of Legatus magazine.