The first audit of Holy See finances by a global accountancy firm has been permanently shelved in what will be seen as another setback in Pope Francis’ battle to reform Church finances.
A statement today from the Vatican announced that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) would no longer be responsible for a far-reaching financial audit which would instead be performed by the Holy See’s Auditor General.
PwC would, the statement said, play an “assisting role” to the Auditor General and would also be available to help Vatican departments with support and consulting services.
The work of PwC would have been the first of its kind and was going to provide a complete picture of Holy See finances, including a valuation of assets. But in April the firm’s work was unilaterally suspended exposing a power struggle between Australian Cardinal George Pell - who the Pope appointed to reform Vatican finances - and senior members of the Roman Curia.
PwC’s auditing was put on hold by a high-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most powerful department, who cited problems with the contract, including the fact that Cardinal Pell was one of the signatories. This assertion was challenged by the cardinal who said that PwC’s three year deal - reportedly worth $3 million - 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 statement released today the Holy See said that “by law” the Auditor General should undertake the audit as this is “normally the case for every sovereign state”. The position of the Auditor General, first established under Francis, reports directly to the Pope and has the power to look at the finances of any Vatican identity. The current Auditor General is Libero Milone, a London-educated accountant who is a former chairman of Deloitte - a global accountancy firm - in Italy.
The Vatican’s statement today stressed that the path to achieving international accountancy standards is “normally complex and prolonged” and that the earlier suspension of PwC was not an attempt to “hinder reforms.”