Rome Newsroom, May 20, 2021 / 5:30 a.m. (CNA).
The Vatican’s Economics Council faces an “enormous task” in its effort to quickly bring the Holy See’s accounting and financial transparency up to international standards, according to one of its lay members.
“We are very focused on putting those basic standards in place and ensuring that the information that is before the pope when he makes decisions is thorough, complete and accurate. And we’re not in that situation yet,” Economics Council member Ruth Kelly told EWTN News.
Kelly, who was education secretary under British Prime Minister Tony Blair and later worked for HSBC Global Asset Management, is one of seven lay people on the Vatican council overseeing the administrative and financial structures and activities of the Roman Curia. , institutions of the Holy See, and the Vatican City State.
Lay members work with eight cardinals to budget for Holy See entities and raise the level of financial transparency — which Kelly says can pose unique challenges.
“For example, the historical legacy is very, very difficult to address if you take the example of, say… a place of residence by tradition in a particular part of the Vatican, or Rome, or somewhere in the world. No one may have ever had it appraised, or really thought about who legally owned it, because through customs and tradition it was obvious what it was to be used for,” she said.
“The Holy See cannot yet account for all of the investment properties it owns specifically around Rome and in Italy. And there is a huge task to be done to ensure that it correctly identifies everyone’s property – whether it’s owned by a diocese, whether it’s owned by the Vatican, whether it’s owned by a parish or someone else – and then to assess it to make sure it’s properly accounted for in the balance sheets .
“So this is a real area where the Holy See needs to be updated quickly.”
The Council of the Economy is also currently putting in place an investment policy for the Vatican and “an extensive training program” in financial standards for those who work in its departments and dicasteries, according to Kelly.
“I’m actually very encouraged by the steps I’ve seen, even though there’s so much to do and so far to go,” she said.
Pope Francis established the Council for the Economy in 2014 as part of his financial reform agenda. Kelly was appointed to the board for a six-year term last August along with five other women from banking, finance, asset management and international law.
“There is a real recognition that it is now very important at the heart of the Church to have lay experts involved in overseeing Vatican accounts and policies and so on. And that’s important, not just in itself, but also for the credibility of the process,” Kelly said.
“The ambition is to fully enforce international accounting standards throughout the Holy See,” she said. “It’s not a position we’ve reached yet, but it’s the one we aspire to.”
Kelly spoke at the “Inspiring Trust: Church Communications and Organizational Vulnerability” webinar series, offered by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. The university is entrusted to Opus Dei, with which Kelly is associated.
“To be brutally honest about this, from my perspective from the council’s perspective…it’s not clear how the funds were disbursed and how they were managed because the transparency hasn’t been there,” he said. she declared.
Kelly is adamant that “once that transparency is there and international standards are applied, then you can start talking completely differently about the Vatican’s role and responsibility and how it handles money. , And so on”.
“If anyone is going to put money in the Peter’s Pence account, they need to know that money is well spent. And right now you can’t say for sure that we can show it, but we’re on track, I think, to be able to do it before too long,” she said.
The Economics Council focused on cost containment when setting this year’s budget, asking Vatican departments to come up with spending cuts, Kelly said.
The Vatican’s budget, which was already running in deficit, was hit again in 2020 and early 2021, when the Vatican Museums, a major source of income, were forced to close for months.
For the Holy See, the coronavirus crisis also meant the collapse of market investments, uncertain income from real estate investments and a decrease in the Church’s contributions to the world.
“The Holy See has suffered, along with all other organizations, or many other organizations, from the pandemic, and this is not surprising. And the question that really comes to the board is how temporary is this and how much will it rebound,” she said.
“And it is true that fundraising has been badly shaken by the COVID crisis, which is not surprising because it has been felt throughout the Church,” she said.
“So, you know, that’s one of the areas on our minds as we think about how to restore reputation and build a strong reputation for how the Holy See handles finances.”
Kelly is confident that there is a strong will among lay members and council cardinals to “quickly make an impact.”
“We expect results, very significant results, before the six years pass at the end of the current term of the council,” she said.
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has overseen the council since its inception in 2014. Other cardinals currently serving on the council include Joseph Tobin of Newark; Anders Arborelius from Stockholm; Péter Erdő from Esztergom-Budapest; Odilo Scherer from Sao Paulo; Gerald Lacroix of Quebec; Giuseppe Petrocchi from L’Aquila; and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
Among the lay members are German law professor Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof; Maria Kolak, President of the National Association of German Cooperative Banks; Alberto Minali, the former chief investment officer of the Eurizon asset management group; Leslie Ferrar, who was treasurer to Britain’s Prince Charles; elevator manufacturer Zardoya Otis; and Eva Castillo Sanz, who sits on the board of Spanish bank Bankia.
Kelly said: “One of the things I think I’m really going to explore as we move forward is how the whole whistleblowing setup in the Vatican works. Because I think part of an open culture is not just financial transparency, but the ability for people to raise issues privately, perhaps unidentified or only identified if they wish.
“Now I know that whistleblowing exists, but I’m not sure yet that it works well enough within the Holy See and the Vatican.”
“There’s a huge way to go, but I think the will is there at the top to see change happen,” she said.