The leaking of receipts belonging to the Vatican’s new finance czar in a failed attempt to discredit him as a lavish spender represents the “last spluttering of old Vatican politics.”
This is just one view circulating among senior officials in Rome after the Italian magazine L’Espresso alleged that Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Secretariat for Economy, had run up a high level of expenses in its first six months of existence.
Appointed last February by Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican’s finances, Pell has been praised for the efficiency of his reforms which have encountered some resistance. Many therefore view the leaking of the receipts as a predictable reaction to the financial overhaul.
The allegations of high spending were swiftly rebutted. In a statement issued Saturday, the Secretariat called them "completely false" and dismissed L’Espresso’s claims that Pope Francis and Australian Pell had discussed such matters as "complete fiction." The Secretariat said it had actually been operating "below the budget set when the office was established," and announced it would shortly release financial statements which will prove it.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi also weighed in, condemning the leaks and personal attacks made against the cardinal in the article. Passing confidential documents to the press for “polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal,” he said. The personal attacks “should be considered undignified and petty,” he added.
The episode is reminiscent of the Vatileaks scandal of 2012 which many believe helped precipitate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s resignation. The former Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was tried and convicted for leaking documents from the apostolic palace, but other shadowy figures within the curia were thought to be the main culprits of the crime.
The motives seemed mixed: some were thought to be opposed to Benedict’s strong willingness to uphold Church doctrine, especially on the family and human sexuality, and others opposed to his then-deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. A few of the same culprits may be behind the recent leaking of receipts, considered to be as grave a breach of confidentiality.
Resistance to Pell’s reforms has been growing steadily, with some cardinals questioning the scope of Pell’s authority and the influence of the Secretariat. There is also reportedly some trepidation about future financial reforms. Members of the College of Cardinals used to automatically have access to significant amounts of money. They are not expected to have this in the future.
But as much as this resistance has to do with financial reform, Pell is seen as an obstacle to loosening the church’s teaching on marriage, the family, and human sexuality – subjects to be discussed at the upcoming Synod on the Family in October.
All of this plays into the possible motives to smear Pell, a pugnacious prelate who Francis values for his honesty and commitment and whom he has entrusted with a powerful department. But he has clearly enemies in the Italian-dominated curia, and in their bid to remove him, Pell’s detractors may have overplayed their hand.
Francis’ efforts to reform the curia have the firm support of the wider church, and such attempts by a few officials to promote their agenda using the same methods as three years ago now seem destined to fail.
In short, Vatican politics has moved on since Vatileaks, which ironically played a role in ushering in this new pontificate, curial reform, and Pell’s appointment. The shadowy conspirators have, in a sense, shown themselves to be victims of their own "success."
“It’s the end of curial patronage,” said a Vatican source. “The use of the poison pen just isn’t going to do it anymore.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.