John Allen on Vatican Finances

John Allen, editor of Crux and biographer of Pope Francis, declared “Pope Francis calls a ‘Hail Mary’ pass on Vatican financial reform.” It is an interesting mix of information and disinformation.

Allen’s metaphor for the situation:

“Pope Francis’s ambitious attempt at financial reform of the Vatican has seemed like an American football game in which the pope’s team is down late in the fourth quarter, and backed up against its side of the field.”

This metaphor is inappropriate in virtually every way. First, saying it is late in the 4th quarter means that due to the clock running out, the game is almost over. But there is no time constraint, and the Vatican will no doubt continue playing its nasty games for a long time to come. The football metaphor implies that the situation is only a brief event. But the Vatican Bank has been corrupt since its inception in 1942. The Godfather Part 3, released in 1990, dramatized its well-known corruption. And for many centuries before the Vatican bank even existed, the Church was financially corrupt. This is not an afternoon event that is almost over.

While Mr. Allen claims that Pope Francis is the quarterback throwing a Hail Mary pass, he neglects to mention that Pope Francis is also head coach and general manager. He has total control over personnel. Financial reform was his top priority. After several years, if key players are still corrupt, he is responsible. He had every chance to remove them and install honest, moral players. If none were available on his bench, he’s had more than enough time to hire them. Unlike football, he doesn’t have to worry about the draft or about salary caps. Furthermore, there is no need to hire stars – just people that are honest and competent. There are thousands of finance people who fit the description. I should note that Pope Francis’s key financial hire was Cardinal Pell, who is currently in Australia awaiting sentence after his conviction for child abuse. (Pope Francis was aware of these charges when he hired Cardinal Pell – and child abuse was his #2 priority.)

The football metaphor also implies that Pope Francis’s opponents represent corruption. But this is patently false. His opponents are the good guys, the international authorities fighting against financial crimes and associated non-financial crimes. Pope Francis is heading up the team of crooks, and like his papal predecessors, is either unwilling or unable to get them to clean up their act.

Disinformation about the Vatican Bank

John Allen reports, “the process of reform of the Vatican bank began under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and by now is largely complete.” Actually, Pope John Paul claimed to have (largely) cleaned up the Vatican bank before Pope Benedict took office. I suspect Mr. Allen tried to suppress the fact that the sainted pope lied. But Mr. Allen also knows that the reform of the Vatican bank is far from complete.  Moneyval is the international organization that monitors the bank, and it repeatedly finds violations which the Vatican not only failed to report, but failed to act on after Moneyval reported them (Vatican Bank Flunks Again). Furthermore, while Mr. Allen now tells us that the bank is largely reformed, he previously reported this was not the case (Editor of CRUX Questions Pope Francis and Vatican). Bearing false witness on behalf of the Vatican appears to be part of his job. He may have papal dispensation; he has no shame.  

Some real information

Mr. Allen points out that the Vatican bank handles relatively little of the papal assets. (He failed to mention that popes traditionally used the Vatican bank as their piggy bank. They asked the president of the bank for money, and he gave it to them.) Allen says, “the real action is at APSA [Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See], which controls the vast majority of the assets the pope actually has at his disposal, and which has a reputation for insularity and resisting efforts at transparency and accountability.” Those assets are “the Vatican’s vast and significantly under-valued real estate holdings and also its investment portfolio.” I was unfamiliar with APSA.

Pope Francis recently told Reuters “‘there is no transparency’ at APSA in terms of the Vatican’s real estate holdings; he said that Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the previous head of APSA and a figure who has himself been accused of involvement in an embezzlement scheme in his previous diocese, was on his way out; and said, ‘We have to move ahead on transparency, and that depends on APSA.’”

In other words, the financial organization most directly involved with the pope is corrupt and was run by a crook. The pope complains that the books are a mess. Pope Francis (and John Allen) appears to be unaware of the existence of auditors, a well-known profession whose function is to investigate and render transparent such murky financial records. With papal support, a team of auditors could almost certainly clean up the records of the real estate and investment portfolio in a relatively short period of time. We’ll see how long it takes.


John Allen once again disregards the facts while puffing Pope Paul. He falsely claims the Vatican bank is nearly reformed – which probably means Pope Francis is not eager to pursue further reformation. APSA is news to me and presumably most people. It too is corrupt.  My guess is that the best guide to the future is the past. Promises and excuses will far exceed reforms. These problems should have been fixed ages ago


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