Between the end of this month and the beginning of August, there will be at least three financial documents from the Holy See:

• The annual report of the Financial Information and Supervision Authority
• The annual report of the Institute for Works of Religion
• The annual budget of the Administration of the Heritage of the Apostolic See

The three documents would not be news in themselves if they did not represent, in their form in recent years, what the pontificate of Pope Francis has been: a great rush to establish a “difference” – a change of direction, a novelty, and a break with the past – even in situations where the past was not as dark as we tend to think or want to make people think.

After all, Pope Francis has recognized several times that Benedict XVI started the fight against abuse in the Church and has praised his commitment. However, when it comes to financial issues, the work of Benedict XVI and that of John Paul II before him takes a back seat. The Pope becomes only an accessory, while the narrative is divided between the corrupt and incompetent bad guys of the previous management and the good ones of the new management.

It happens, for example, when the president of the IOR, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, in a meeting of the OMNES forum, underlines that in the past, there was no connivance of the Church with various criminals but rather incompetent people who made the Church lose money. We know what de Franssu said because this was reported in an article in the same Spanish magazine. The meeting was under Chatham House Rules, meaning that, at most, you could mention some topics but not attribute them to a source – which, in meetings with only one speaker, is equivalent to not mentioning anything at all to avoid breaking confidentiality.

But was there incompetence that caused people to lose money before? And if it is incompetence, why did the 2013 annual report certify that the IOR had achieved a profit of 86.6 million, a figure that has yet to be reached again in the last ten years?

The answer is, generally, that the new management of the IOR had to face unexpected expenses to dispose of risky or—even worse—immoral investments. The conviction of two former managers for bad management would be the proof that an interpretation of this type.

It is a reading of the facts based on a trial verdict that is itself subject to question.The hypothesis that the investments were correct and agreed upon with management (at the IOR, something can only be done by consulting superiors) needs to be considered. Above all, the reading does not consider the accusation of a former IOR consultant, who some time ago highlighted that he had been called in to make more aggressive investments. In short, if there have been non-conservative investments, they have taken place under the new management, starting from 2013, and not under the old.

The narrative surrounding the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF) reports is similar. The ASIF builds on a legal system completely put in place by the old administration, and even the positive evaluations from the MONEYVAL Committee of the Council of Europe derive from technical improvements that are part of the legislative framework long adopted by the Holy See.

The Authority changed its name From the AIF to the ASIF. The ASIF got a new Board of Directors but continued to talk about excellent results, distancing itself from the previous management, which, among other things, still enjoys outstanding international credibility.

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) has a different position. In last year’s budget, it also wanted to draw up its personal history of investments, and in the previous year’s budget, it had defined some investments that had brought a lot of profits.

One of these investments, among other things, concerned a luxury property in Paris, which was in every way similar to the investment that the Secretariat of State made for the luxury property in London. The similarity is indeed significant, because the issue of the London property has ended up in a Vatican trial of which we still await a sentence the justifications behind it. It is important to understand that the judges are claiming that the adequate checks and procedures, provided by the Vatican legislation of the time, were not carried out for the London deal.

The question to ask is whether this narrative of rupture really reflects the Church’s way of doing things. The Church has never broken with its past but has always built on it. This applies to everything from financial matters to theological matters. Even when there is a cry for novelty and revolution in the Church, what revolution comes must come along a path that is sometimes bumpy.

Of course, many examples can be given that certify a breakup. Often, for example, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke about the issue of slavery and how the Church was initially in favor of slavery and then not. However, this example also does not consider the theological and practical work done by the Church for and with enslaved people. In contrast, it considers some decisions of the Popes that were explicitly political as acts of magisterium.

The Church, in the end, has always been for the human being, and so how could she have been in favor of slavery?

How the Church adapts to the times is another matter.

Pope Francis’s personalist style probably caused a rupture, one felt keenly in the Vatican. How, for example, can the Secretariat of State carry out a line of mediation if the Pope, with extemporaneous declarations, burns that mediation and directs the Church elsewhere?

This, however, concerns the Pope’s management, character, and personality. The life of the Curia, despite the name changes and reforms, continues regularly, building daily on a consolidated practice that continues regularly. One may notice a lack of prophecy in the texts, which may be a fair observation, but this does not mean that the work and procedures are not going on regularly.

Thus, these three financial documents might mirror the Pope’s pontificate, which seems to have forgotten the past and starts from a here-and-now that does not concern what was there before and is keen to demonstrate a substantial novelty even when there was a lot of good in old things.

These documents, which will be released in the following months, will have to be scrutinized because they could say many more things about the Pope and the pontificate than we have understood so far.


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