There are times when big announcements appear with trumpets blaring, and there are times they come with a simple press release. From the Vatican Information Service:
OTHER PONTIFICAL ACTS
Vatican City, 5 June 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has:
– approved the appointment by the Cardinal Secretary of State of Tommaso Di Ruzza as vice-director “ad interim” of the Financial Information Authority (AIF). Dr. Di Ruzza was previously study assistant at the AIF.
– appointed, for a further five-year period, the following members of the managing board of the Financial Information Authority: Maria Bianca Farina, managing director of Poste Vita and Poste Assicura, Italy; Marc Odendall, administrator of various foundations and financial advisor for the philanthropic sector, Switzerland; Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, president of the Council of Consultors of the president of the Republic of Singapore, Singapore; Juan C. Zarate, senior advisor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and lecturer in law at Harvard University, U.S.A.
The headline makes this sound minor, but it’s a shakeup of major proportions. As stories of money laundering and other financial improprieties emerge at the Vatican, Francis has put the old guard of Italians out and brought in folks with considerable financial expertise who understand — and support — international financial transparency rules. There were hints this was coming in his press conference on the plane home from the Middle East last month, where he said:
The Gospel tells us that Lord Jesus once said to His disciples that it is inevitable that there will be scandals, because we are human and we are sinners. And there will be scandals. The key is trying to avoid that there are more of them! Economic administration calls for honesty and transparency. The two Commissions, the one which has studied the IOR and the Commission that has studied the Vatican as whole, have reached their conclusions, and now the ministry, the Secretariat for the economy directed by Cardinal Pell, will carry out the reforms that the two Commissions have advised. … For instance, in the IOR I think that around 1,600 accounts have been closed, belonging to people who were not entitled to hold an account at the IOR. The IOR exists to help the Church, and accounts can be held by bishops, Vatican employees, and their widows or widowers, to draw their pensions. … But other private individuals are not entitled to accounts. It is not open to all.
But while the banking community may appreciate this move to bring the Vatican and its financial institutions into line with international norms, they are worried about Francis’ comments about exploitative capitalism and the mindless pursuit of more and more profit at the expense of those on the margins of society. Timothy Dolan, Bishop of Wall Street, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that tried to dial back some of Francis’ recent comments with some help from that not-so-noted expert on Catholic ethics and social justice, Larry Kudlow.
This did not go over well actual experts.
“It wasn’t Argentinean populist economics, Eastern European crony capitalism, or African kleptocracy that threatened the world economy with the worst recession since the 1930s,” said Jesuit Fr. Drew Christiansen, professor of ethics and global human development at Georgetown University. “It was no-holds-barred American capitalism that did that.”
“It is a shame that the Cardinal seems more interested in making Pope Francis’ statements seem less threatening to free-market-celebrating Americans than he is in applying the Pope’s critique to the American scene as it really exists,” says Joseph A. McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. “One doesn’t need to travel to a developing nation to see a system that is functioning as ‘an exploitative racket.’ The signs are all around us in the United States.”
“The Pope’s critiques have direct relevance to economic inequality and injustice that clearly exist in the United States today,” says Jesuit Fr. David Hollenbach, professor of human rights and international justice at Boston College. The cardinal “needs to reflect on the extraordinary growth of inequality of income and wealth in the United States when he suggests that Pope Francis’ criticisms of capitalism do not apply in this country.”
“Cardinal Dolan misses what Pope Francis sees so clearly,” Father Christiansen says. “The growth of inequality everywhere including the U.S. is a result of American-style capitalism and the financialization of the economy.”
For McCartin, “Reading the cardinal’s statement makes me appreciate all the more the great service that the French economist Thomas Piketty has done us recently by demonstrating that the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth under capitalism — not just in one nation, but in all the nations for which data exists, and by persuasively arguing that, given this trend, systemic government intervention is necessary to keep capitalism from sliding toward oligopoly.”
Jesuit Fr. John Langan, who holds the Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, faults Dolan for crediting all the positive accomplishments of the economy “to the private sector, while exempting it from serious criticism for the actual defects of our system, the problems of ‘real existing capitalism.'”
There more — much more — from Reece at the link above.
(Note: This isn’t the first time Dolan has had trouble with financial subjects. Ditto for Kudlow, for whom conservative ideological talking points matter much more than actual facts.)
From day one on the job, Francis has two big in-house issues to deal with — problems within the Vatican’s byzantine financial systems and the sex abuse crisis. Both have at their core a “protect the institution at all costs” mentality, inside the Curia in Rome and in the bishops’ residences around the world. In his actions here, Francis has taken serious action toward reform in the first case, stepping on some serious toes among the old guard along the way.
Which gives me hope about his remarks on the plane about that other set of scandals:
Abuse of minors
At the moment there are three bishops under investigations: one has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed. There are no privileges. … A priest who does this betrays the Body of the Lord, because this priest must lead this child, this boy, this girl, to sanctity, and this boy or girl trusts in him; and instead of leading them to sanctity he abuses them. This is very serious. It is like, by way of comparison, holding a black Mass. You are supposed to lead them to sanctity and instead you lead them to a problem that will last their entire lives. In a few days’ time there will be a Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae with some survivors of abuse, and then a meeting with them. … But we must move forward on this issue, with zero tolerance!
If Francis is talking about external secular trials, the only bishop with a conviction is Robert Finn, still in office here in Kansas City. Is Francis ready to take action against those who protect those who rape and abuse children, just as he has against those who have protected and enabled money launderers to run their business through the Vatican?
Photo by the Catholic Church England and Wales under Creative Commons license