New office to oversee Vatican economy

Australia's Cardinal Pell to head central Vatican office

Pope Francis has announced the establishment of a powerful new department to oversee the Vatican's economic and administrative affairs.

The new Secretariat for the Economy will be headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.

Pell is expected to move permanently to the Vatican as he takes on his new role, reportedly at the end of March. The 72-year-old Australian cardinal has long been regarded as a formidable, no-nonsense figure for his outspoken views on conservative and doctrinal matters.

The new Vatican structure will have “authority over all economic and administrative activities” in the Holy See and will be responsible for annual budgets. It will implement policies determined by the new Council for the Economy, a 15-member body of eight cardinals or bishops and seven lay experts with financial experience.

The pope will appoint an auditor-general (yet to be named) to guard against fiscal mismanagement who will have the power to audit any Vatican agency. 

The decree by Pope Francis was a motu proprio, or personal initiative, and comes as part of the pontiff's ongoing reform of the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic Church.

His announcement on 24 February follows recent meetings of the eight-member Council of Cardinal Advisors (often referred to as the C8) – established by Francis to advise him on Vatican reform – and the committee of 15 cardinals that oversees the Holy See's economic affairs.

The move also comes after the pope recently introduced strict austerity measures which include laying off Vatican employees with non-permanent contracts and banning recruitment, overtime and salary increases.

Meanwhile the role and structure of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), better known as the Vatican Bank, has not changed although it too is said to be facing a major shake-up.