View From Rome

Tough words from Pope Francis on corruption at the outset of the Year of Mercy

10 December 2015 | by Christopher Lamb

In his papal bull setting out the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued a ­special invitation to those who ­“perpetrate or participate” in corruption to turn away from their sinful ways.

He described corruption as an “evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal” which must be driven out with “prudence, vigilance, loyalty, transparency”.

These tough words are worth remembering as the Year of Mercy starts. The truth is that it begins under the cloud of the Vatileaks 2 trial where five people, including two journalists, stand accused for leaking and disseminating documents showing financial mismanagement in the Holy See.

The individuals, who include three former Vatican officials, are being prosecuted under a law that criminalises leaking that the Pope himself instituted soon after his election in 2013.

While the popular media narrative has Francis as the kind and cuddly Pope, it belies the fact that Jorge Bergoglio is a steely and forceful Argentinian Jesuit. And when it comes to corruption and disloyalty, he brooks little dissent.

He is also, by all accounts, a demanding boss: talk to those who knew him well in Argentina and you are unlikely to hear entirely flattering descriptions.

His demanding nature and determination is necessary, however, if he wants to get mercy on the Church’s agenda and to continue his clean-up of the Vatican.

Last week, the Council for the Economy appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a leading international firm, as the external auditor of the Holy See’s finances and it will commence straight away with the 2015 audit of accounts.

It will work closely with the Secretariat for the Economy, led by Australian Cardinal George Pell, who prepared the accounts for 2014.

It should be pointed out that Cardinal Pell’s department reports to the Council of the Economy and it appears that PwC will be reviewing the accounting work of the secretariat.

The Council for the Economy and the Pope obviously feel they need complete outsiders to ensure the accounts are in order.

Talking of outsiders, Francis is clearly happy to be one in the Vatican. He has decided to bypass the Roman Curia and take his message to ordinary Catholics. The Pope appealed to them directly over the Vatileaks saga during a Sunday Angelus address last month, denouncing the leakers and telling the crowd in St Peter’s Square that he was carrying out his reform project “with the support of all of you”.

His approach was summed up on the in-flight press conference at the end of his Africa trip when he was asked what the position of the Vatican was regarding the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Russia. “I don’t know what the Vatican thinks, I know what I think,” he replied.

By Rome standards, it was an extraordinary appointment. Aged just 30, Francesca Chaouqui, a woman – yes, a woman – and a financial public relations expert was, back in 2013, appointed to Pope Francis’ commission charged with overhauling the Vatican’s finances and administration.

Now, however, she is one of the five standing trial accused of leaking documents from that commission. She denies the charges.

There are those in the Vatican who said they spotted trouble ahead given Chaouqui had tweeted that former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was “corrupt”, Benedict XVI had leukaemia and then posted racy photos of her and her husband on Facebook.

Chaouqui is well connected in the Italian corporate world, having worked for Ernst & Young. She has been keen to stress her closeness to the Pope and has a picture of herself with Francis on her Facebook profile. I also understand that, after a recent tentative enquiry was made to see if she would work abroad for a large Italian company, she declined, saying: “my relationship with the Pope is too important.”

It is widely expected that a revamp of the Holy See’s communications is due to be unveiled soon. A series of recommendations were submitted by Lord (Chris) Patten of Barnes, a Tablet trustee, although it is not clear how much of what he suggested will be implemented.

It does, however, appear likely that Mgr Paul Tighe, the affable and able secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Com­munications, is going to return to Ireland as a bishop. Many are tipping him to take over as Bishop of Meath – the current incumbent, Michael Smith has turned 75.

Moving to Meath would mean Mgr Tighe is close to his friend and ally the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. Might Mgr Tighe eventually take over from Archbishop Martin, who reaches retirement age in just under five years’ time?

Christopher Lamb is Rome correspondent of The Tablet.



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