I think we can all agree that 2013 has been something of an anno expectatio for the Vatican. In May 2013 their FIU (the Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria, or AIF) published its first annual report – rather short on detail but long on hope. And in August 2013 Pope Francis issued a motu proprio concerning concerning “the prevention and countering of money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Pope Francis certainly seems to be more worldly than his predecessors, and rather an innovator: he talks in simple vocabulary, often quoting the wise sayings of his late grandma Rosa; he lives in a suite in the Vatican’s Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather that in the more sumptuous papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, and is driven around in a Ford Focus rather than the Popemobile; and he recently posed for a “selfie” with young visitors to the Vatican. But I fear that he may just have made a grave mis-step: yesterday he announced that his personal secretary will supervise the activities of the Vatican Bank.
According to the Beeb, “Monsignor Alfred Xuereb will oversee the activities of two commissions [the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for the Works of Religion, and the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See] set up earlier this year following a series of financial scandals”. Now Monsignor Xuereb, a 55-year old priest from Malta, may well be an excellent and honest man – but the truth is that he is both too close to the organisation that he is required to supervise, and too close to the person to whom he is to make his reports. If he loves the Vatican Bank, can he be critical enough in his review? And if he loves Pope Francis, can he be brutal enough in delivering his assessment? Pope Francis seemed determined to root out the problems in the Vatican Bank, but with this appointment of the ultimate insider, are we seeing a case of the spirit being willing while the flesh is weak?