Pope Francis' Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican's Old Guard : Parallels As the second anniversary of his papacy nears, Pope Francis has made significant progress in bringing transparency to the Vatican's finances and Cardinal George Pell is carrying out sweeping reforms.
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Pope Francis' Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican's Old Guard

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Pope Francis' Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican's Old Guard

Pope Francis' Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican's Old Guard

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Pope Francis began to try to reform the dysfunctional administration of the Vatican after he was elevated by the College of Cardinals two years ago. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that some of the Pope's biggest reforms have been to the Vatican's finances.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Three days after his election, Pope Francis made clear his vision of what the Catholic Church should be.

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POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) Oh, how I would love a poor church for the poor.

POGGIOLI: But the Pope did not mean he wanted a church with empty coffers. The Vatican's finances had long been plagued by suspicion of corruption. In order to clean house, Pope Francis created a new department, the Secretariat for the Economy, and chose as its prefect an outsider to the opaque and secretive world of the Vatican bureaucracy. Shortly after taking over his new job, Australian Cardinal George Pell spoke to the media.

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CARDINAL GEORGE PELL: We are working so that international financial standards will be followed in all the dicasteries and sections of the Holy See.

POGGIOLI: For an organization that in the past has been accused of money laundering, Cardinal Pell set the bar very high.

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PELL: We are aiming at a substantial transparency. Our ambition is to become something of a model of financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal.

POGGIOLI: In less than a year, sweeping reforms have gone into effect. The Vatican Bank closed down thousands of suspicious bank accounts. Cooperation agreements have been signed with Germany, Italy and the U.S. for full transparency and exchange of information to combat tax evasion and money laundering. Starting this year, there will be one centralized budget and consolidated balance sheet showing earnings and expenses for each department. In overseeing many of these changes, the Australian Cardinal's gruff and no-nonsense manner irritated many of the Old Guard, who feared the outsider was amassing too much power.

MARCO POLITI: When it comes to money and to properties, Vatican becomes always a place of snakes.

POGGIOLI: Long-time Vatican analyst Marco Politi says the Australian cardinal rocked the boat.

POLITI: And in this job Pell has been, in the last months, very energetic. Sometimes maybe too swift, not observing the soft diplomacy.

POGGIOLI: Pope Francis knew there would be resistance to Pell, says Gerard O'Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit America magazine.

GERARD O'CONNELL: Because you're touching interests. You're touching a whole network of contracts, of business, of money moving here and there that has been put in place over decades.

POGGIOLI: At the pope's instructions, Pell insisted that all funds that different Vatican departments pocketed from outside sources must now be listed in the balance sheet. O'Connell says no more shell games.

O'CONNELL: They can't keep money in the closet and use it for other purposes because people were giving money, but also trying to influence the policy directions and even nominations. That, the end is nigh.

POGGIOLI: Last month in a move reminiscent of the Vatileaks scandal that helped end the papacy of Benedict XVI, an Italian weekly, under the headline "The Luxuries Of The Moralizer," published Pell's receipts for business-class airfare and expensive vestments. The Vatican strongly defended the Cardinal, calling the leaks undignified, petty and illegal. A few days later Pope Francis announced his approval of the legal framework of three new financial oversight bodies. That gives Pell wide powers, including monitoring of other Vatican departments. But the Pope did not give him control over the Vatican's multi-million euro real estate portfolio. Vatican analyst Politi says this fits in with the introduction at the Vatican of the concept of checks and balances.

POLITI: If you are a controller you can't be a manager, so management must be separated from vigilance.

POGGIOLI: Politi points out that Cardinal Pell is a conservative who does not share all the Pope's views on how to run the Catholic Church.

POLITI: This shows that Pope Francis wants that in this process of renewal of the Church, everybody has to take part - if he wants and if he's ready.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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