Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican
by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in about 600 years. It seems that one of the major causes of the resignation was that the Vatican bureaucracy (Curia) seemed increasingly out of his control and the resulting condition was placing the health of the Church at risk. The problems within the Church were demonstrated by the highly confidential report Benedict commissioned that was subsequently leaked to the public by his butler. A major priority of the conclave resulting from his resignation was the selection of someone who could bring some control and order to the Curia, hence Jorge Bergoglio – Francis. Merchants in the Temple written by Nuzzi is based on more leaked information and is about Francis’s efforts to bring the Curia under some control and organization.
The book chronicles Francis’s efforts to bring the bank, real estate, human resources and the budget under his control. On the mundane/micromanagement level there is an amazing review of a secret audio recording of the Pope’s meeting with the senior Cardinal leaders of the Curia about among other things the importance of using purchase orders (PO). It seems hard to imagine that the Holy Father would have to concern himself with POs, but he wanted a stop to the irresponsible way in which the Vatican was buying things. The book chronicles times when the Curia paid for things that were not ordered or delivered (AKA fraud). Francis is quoted as repeating several times in the meeting that if there is no purchase order “we don’t pay.”
Francis brought in major accounting firms including some from the USA to follow the money in the various departments (dichasteries). He eventually found almost $2 billion that was off the books (not in their budgets) across the departments. It seems the Cardinals considered these as rainy day funds. A cornerstone of Francis’s reforms was the establishment of the Secretariat for the Economy with authority over all economic activities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State. He appointed Cardinal Pell of Australia to run this new centralization of finances for the Holy See. Even his appointment of Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin resisted transferring control of the annual Peter’s Pence collection to the Cardinal Pell operation. Historically Peter’s Pence had been used to cover annual deficits in the dichasteries but was intended for the pastoral work of the Holy See.
The real estate situation was ripe with opportunities for favoritism, fraud and abuse. The immense real estate holdings of the Holy See around the world were managed by APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function. There is plenty of shocking reading in this area about the types of bad behavior that was rampant. Human resources was not centralized in the Vatican and each dichastery had their own HR operation again allowing for uncontrolled hiring and compensation.
Overall the book is an unexpected and intriguing look into the inside operations of the Vatican and gives some explanation and understanding as to why even such a savvy and determined Pontiff as Francis has trouble trying to improve things. While Francis has made some important progress and changes within the administrative and management structures of the Church he has a long way to go before real accountability will exist for the material resources of the Church.