Pope Francis has formally stripped the Vatican secretariat of state of its financial assets and real estate holdings following its bungled management of hundreds of millions of euro in donations and investments that are now the subject of a corruption investigation.
Francis signed a new law over the weekend ordering the secretariat of state to complete the transfer of all its holdings to another Vatican office by February. 4.
The law also calls for all donations to the pope – the Peter’s Pence collections from the faithful as well as other donations – to be held and managed by the Vatican’s treasury office as separate funds that are accounted for in the Holy See’s consolidated budget.
The changes are a response to a spiralling Vatican criminal investigation into years-long allegations of mismanagement of donations and investments by the Vatican’s secretariat of state which has resulted in losses of tens of millions of euro at a time of financial crisis for the Holy See.
The Holy See is facing a major cash crunch as its main source of revenue, ticket sales from the Vatican Museums, evaporated this year due to coronavirus closures.
Francis had already ordered the transfers in August and followed up in November by appointing a commission to put the changes into effect. The new law makes the changes permanent.
Francis said he was making the changes to improve the administration, control and vigilance over the Holy See’s assets and ensure a more “transparent and efficient management”.
Francis moved against his own secretariat of state amid an 18-month investigation by Vatican prosecutors into the office’s €350m investment into a luxury residential building in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood and other speculative funds.
Francis’ decision has been an embarrassing blow to the secretariat of state’s standing as the most powerful Holy See office, reducing it to essentially any other department that must propose a budget and have it approved and monitored by others.
The outcome is essentially what was sought years ago by Cardinal George Pell, Francis’ first economy minister who clashed with the secretariat of state over his financial reforms.
Pell had to abandon those reform efforts in 2017 to face trial for sexual abuse in his native Australia, but he was acquitted and recently told reporters he felt vindicated the wrongdoing he tried to uncover was being exposed.