Pope Francis’s Vatican: How the New Pontiff Is Shaking Things Up

The canonization of two recent pontiffs — John Paul II and John XXIII — is just the latest sign of how Pope Francis's reformist impulses are changing the Catholic Church

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Riccardo De Luca / AP

Pope Francis prays in front of the tomb of Pope John XXIII at the end of a mass on the 50th anniversary of his death, on June 3, 2013 in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

On Friday, Pope Francis fast-tracked approval for the sainthood of two recent pontiffs: Pope John Paul II, who presided over the Church at the end of the Cold War, and Pope John XXIII, who held the liberalizing Second Vatican Council half a century ago. To do so, Pope Francis undercut the Vatican’s traditional bureaucracy and its complex protocols regarding the proof of miracles required to canonize saints. For the Argentine cleric, who assumed the papacy’s top role earlier this year, the move is just the latest sign of his reformist impulses.

Far removed from the realms of saints and miracles, Pope Francis, it seems, has sought to shake up some of the Vatican’s more earthly institutions. The past two weeks have been filled with drama for the Vatican Bank, a tiny organization operating from within the Vatican walls that has been time and again a source of scandal and embarrassment for the Catholic Church. The latest intrigue began with the arrest on June 28 by Italian police of a senior monsignor, Nunzio Scarano, for allegedly planning to smuggle €20 million to Italy in a private jet. Pope Francis then ordered an unprecedented review of the bank by an independent commission. On July 1, came the surprise resignation of the bank’s two top managers. Director General Paolo Cipriani and his deputy, Massimo Tulli, who have led the bank for almost a decade, “have decided that this decision would be in the best interest of the Institute and the Holy See,” said a Vatican statement.

(MORE: Pope John Paul II on Fast Track to Sainthood)

While the Vatican presented their resignation as voluntary, Pope Francis’ move to create a review commission, handpicked by him, with full powers to request documents and question people on the activities of the bank, was clearly seen as a vote of no confidence towards the bank’s management. That is a major step toward establishing better financial transparency for the bank, which is formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) and has long been criticized for its secrecy and lack of accountability. Vatican authorities “have come a long way in a very short period of time” according to Moneyval, a European financial watchdog based in Strasbourg, France. “Catholics around the world have felt Pope Francis’s warmth,” said a Vatican source, referring the simple, heartfelt style of the Argentine pontiff. “But also in the Vatican someone is starting to feel the heat.”

When Pope Francis was elected to the papacy in February, he did so with a clear mandate to eliminate what many Catholics see as mismanagement, and even corruption, within the Vatican central administration, the Curia. The IOR has quickly become the focal point of this criticism. The reform process began under the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, who started putting into place the building blocks of a financial accountability policy by creating a Vatican financial watchdog in 2010.

(MORE: Francis’ New Papal Style: A Comparison with Benedict)

The recent shakeup is just the latest installment in the IOR’s long history of scandals and secrecy. Under the leadership of American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus in the 1970s and 80s, IOR was implicated in the collapse of a midsized Italian bank, Banco Ambrosiano, which had lent more than a billion dollars to Vatican-guaranteed dummy companies. The head of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, was found in 1982 hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in an apparent suicide.

Rather than waiting for the next scandal to explode, Francis has decided to act preemptively. The new review commission could lead to a deeper restructuring of the IOR, or perhaps even even to its outright closing, according to Vatican observers. Critics of the bank say the Catholic Church today could rely on existing financial institution to reliably get its money to missionaries and priests, often operating even in the most remote corners of the earth. The need for further reform is clear. In its report, Moneyval warned that while the new regulations put in place by Benedict looked fine on paper, they still had to show they were effective in practice.

(PHOTOSCatholics in Latin America Rejoice Pope Francis)

In a different investigation from the one that led to his arrest, Monsignor Scarano was accused of attempting to launder money by taking 560,000 euros ($727,900) in cash out of his Vatican account and giving various amounts to friends in exchange for checks he could then deposit into his Italian account to pay a mortgage. He preferred to use 500-euro bills, earning his nickname “Don 500” in the Italian press. The operation didn’t sound any alarm bells within the compliance systems of the Vatican Bank, and the Vatican acted to suspend Scarano only after he was put under investigation by Italian prosecutors. Senior Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli wrote in the daily newspaper La Stampa that this indicates a rooted “cultural habit” within the IOR and the Vatican that needs to be addressed.

In a recent interview to the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Cipriani, who just resigned as director general, dismissed any talk of closing of the Vatican Bank as nonsense, asserting that it is “essential” to the church’s mission. It’s a stark contrast to the leader of his church. In his homilies, Francis has often noted that Jesus and his apostles disdained material goods and certainly didn’t need bank accounts. Having set an example by choosing to live in the Vatican’s modern guesthouse rather than in the Renaissance-era papal apartments and eschewing much of the pomp and trappings of the papacy cherished by his predecessor, Francis has called for a humbler, simpler church that relies more on its message of faith than on worldly means. By forcing the Vatican Bank into a harsh spotlight, Francis is putting some real-world muscle behind that lofty sentiment.

MORE: New Pope Shows Eye for Symbolism

9 comments
Mschind
Mschind

Factual error: he was elected in March, not February

HfcmoreiraHugo
HfcmoreiraHugo

@TIME @TIMEWorld I hope he can bring the church back to the people and to end with the power of some lobbies on the vaticane God help him!

JuneAnnette
JuneAnnette

The TRUTH is . . 

The RC "church" is not built upon Christ the ROCK and His sayings, but upon the sinking sand of man's traditions,  and thus is not CHIRST's CHURCH!   Furthermore, the RC "church" is built upon the supposed pre-eminence of the Apostle Peter and the false claim of "apostolic succession" which they assert resides in the popes of Rome, and to whom they blasphemously claim obedience is required and necessary for salvation. . . and I quote:

"We,moreover, proclaim, declare and pronounce that it is altogether

necessary to salvation for every human being to be subject to the

Roman Pontiff."

Source: Pope Boniface

VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam, promulgated November 18, 1302,

***********

God's Word as it is found in: Acts 4:12:

"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

We know from the preceding verses that that name is the Lord Jesus Christ!

*********

God's Word as it is found in: Heb. 7:25

"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him . . "

Again, we know from the preceding verses that that name is the Lord Jesus Christ!

*************

Roman Catholicism contradicts the Word of God.

God's Word trumps the pope's word!

Roman Catholicism is not Christ's Church!

June Annette, a Christian & a Witness for Christ

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

Will he make public the real reason pope Benedict abdicated? We know it had to do with a cabal in the Vatican blackmailing gay clergy, but we don't know if he was one of the blackmailers or one of the victims.


Will he make public the statistics on paedophilia and child rape in the catholic church outside the USA? In the USA the stats were made public because of a class action suit, so we know that 20 000 children were raped by priests in the US alone. The catholic church has never made public any figures for how many victims there are outside the US.


Will he reverse oppressive policies which exist not because of faith, but because of demographical concerns? I am of course thinking of the ban on contraceptives and abortion.

No. He'll do none of this, because his chief concern is not faith or the people in the church, but the well-being of the church as an institution.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@WilfTarquin I hope you're wrong and that Pope Francis will steer the church back to its true mission, to spread the gospel and message of Christ.  Becoming transparent and confessing ones sins is the first step toward that end.

I've noted that in a Cover-Your-@ss world that if you simply do your job, making decisions and acting for the right reasons, your @ss is automatically covered.