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Cardinal Pell lectures bishops over finances as 'dishonesty is not unknown' in church

01 February 2016 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Lack of control over a diocese's money can be an encouragement to would-be thieves, Vatican's moneyman says

The love of money might be the root of all evil but according to the Vatican’s financial controller bishops must understand how to manage it properly. 

In September last year Cardinal George Pell addressed recently ordained bishops attending an annual training course in Rome designed to help them deal with their myriad of new responsibilities. The text of what he said has just been released by the Vatican in a book of all the talks. 

The Australian cardinal, appointed by Pope Francis as the Holy See’s first Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, gives the “baby” bishops a very clear instruction: keep spending under control. It is something he is trying to do at the Vatican by creating budgets for each department, hiring an external auditor for the first time and attempting to value all of the assets including St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

While most men becoming priests are not motivated by money, when they become bishops they assume control of multi-million pound budgets and assets. And the way that a diocese is structured it is the bishop who has pretty much complete power over the finances. 

The former Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney is clear, however, that the leader of a diocese must understand financial basics and show an interest in the issues. If he doesn’t, Cardinal Pell explains, it “would give encouragement to thieves”.

He goes on: “One does not have to be an expert, but he must be able to see the holes in a ladder.”

The cardinal says that “dishonesty is not unknown” in the Church and cites his first parish assignment as an assistant priest as an example without going into further details. 

In recent years there have been cases of financial controllers of dioceses stealing money. The former treasurer of the welsh Diocese of Menevia, Frank Monti, was convicted for stealing £15,000 to buy himself a grand piano while Anita Guzzardi, a former Chief Financial Officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was convicted of embezzling over $900,000 (£629,000).

Cardinal Pell urges bishops to operate strict financial controls and employ a business manager to ensure guidelines are adhered to. This manager should be more than an accountant but “an entrepreneur” who understand finances, land matters and canon law. Financial reporting is also cited as critically important along along with strong internal controls to ensure cash is spent properly. 

These measures will ensure that a diocese does not rack up an annual loss, something which the cardinal says should be “very rare”. He says that one diocese ran up an annual deficit of than $10 million (700,000) while it is widely known that others struggle to break even. 

Finally, the cardinal explains that the bishop must act as a custodian of diocesan assets and firmly states that he must “not sell land.” He says: “this patrimony should be preserved and handed on to the bishop’s successor. It belongs to the future and should not be spent on one generation.”

Appointing Cardinal Pell to manage the Vatican’s money was a shrewd move by the Pope. While Francis wants a “poor church for the poor” he also wants one that isn’t sinking into the red. 

 

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