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Cardinal Pell regrets he didn’t push enough on Vatican reform

Cardinal George Pell


John Burger - published on 09/25/21 - updated on 09/25/21

Former prefect of Secretariat for the Economy speaks about "ingenuity" of those who opposed overhaul.

Financial reform in the Vatican is moving in the right direction, according to Cardinal George Pell, whose involvement in that reform was interrupted by a prison term on false charges.

“We’ve got good, honest men in charge of it,” Cardinal Pell said at a webinar this week. “We have a methodology with a modern, contemporary method of presenting financial information, so it’s possible for the authorities to fairly easily work out where we are.”

The 80-year-old former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, said he feels the Vatican has “made very substantial progress against corruption.” The Institute for Works of Religion — commonly referred to at the Vatican Bank — is “substantially clean,” in the cardinal’s assessment. 

But, he cautioned, the Vatican has been spending more money than it receives. “More needs to be done,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods financially yet.” 

The cardinal was interviewed for The Church Up Close, a professional seminar for journalists seeking better understanding in covering the Catholic Church. It is organized by the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome. 

During the September 23 webinar, Cardinal Pell said he regretted that when he was prefect for the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, he did not push far enough on certain issues.

“I probably underestimated the ingenuity and resilience of the opponents of reform,” Pell said. Some of those opponents “didn’t like change, they didn’t understand what was being proposed.” Other opponents, he said, were “people linked to corruption.”

In 2013, newly-elected Pope Francis named Cardinal Pell, then-archbishop of Sydney, and seven other cardinals to advise him on reform of the Vatican Curia. The following year, Pell was appointed to be the first prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, responsible for the annual budget of the Holy See and the Vatican. One of the first things he did was to bring in PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of the Vatican’s finances. That move encountered opposition, however, and the audit was never fully conducted. 

Pell, in the Santa Croce webinar, said he felt “we made a major mistake when the external auditors were fired,” a move he said he never approved. “But perhaps I should have pushed farther” against it. 

Pell stepped aside in 2017 when he was charged by Australian authorities of sexually abusing two minor boys while Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. Although he was eventually exonerated of the charges, he spent over 400 days in prison in isolation, an experience he writes about in his two-volume Prison Journal.

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