Pope Francis’ treasurer has pledged to serve his full five-year term of office as a battle rages in the Vatican over financial accountability.
Although he reaches the retirement age of 75 next month, Australian Cardinal George Pell plans to continue in post until 2019 and said elements in the Holy See were refusing to cooperate with an external audit.
Pell, who is the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, has made strenuous attempts to introduce transparency and accountability into the Roman Curia which has included the commissioning of PricewaterhouseCooopers to conduct a review of Holy See finances.
But last month a senior official at the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most powerful department, unilaterally suspended PwC’s work citing problems with the firm’s contract including the fact that Cardinal Pell was one of the signatories.
This assertion was challenged by the cardinal who said the PwC agreement was agreed by the Council for the Economy, the body led by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx which also oversees Cardinal Pell’s department.
In a new statement issued at the end of last week the cardinal’s office said that “so called concerns" about the PwC audit “were only raised when auditors began asking for certain financial information and were finding it difficult to get answers.”
A communique from the Holy See released last Tuesday, however, said there were issues with “the meaning and scope of certain clauses” and “methods of implementation” with the PwC’ deal.
The public playing out of a disagreement is highly unusual for the Vatican and signifies the high level of tension inside the Church regarding attempts to overhaul Holy See finances.
Last week the Pope paid a visit to Cardinal Pell’s department and to APSA, the financial powerhouse of the Vatican which manages a property portfolio, investments and pays Vatican employees’ salaries. APSA operates with little accountability and does not fall under the supervision of Pell’s secretariat nor the Vatican’s financial watchdog.
In their statement, Pell’s office said the Pope spent an hour with the secretariat’s team during which he took part “in a friendly and lively discussion.”
It added that Francis “repeated the need for outside or external professional inclusion and assistance.”