ROBERT MICKENS. Pope Francis clips Cardinal Pell’s wings.

In the space of a week, Pope Francis reduced the responsibilities of Cardinal George Pell and rebuffed an initiative by Cardinal Robert Sarah. …

Pope Francis [also] did a pretty good number on Australian Cardinal George Pell by once more drastically reducing his powers as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (SFE).

The pope issued a new “motu proprio” last Saturday that essentially reverses a 2014 law that had given Pell’s office managing control over the Holy See’s real estate and investments portfolios.

The new decree returns this control to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) – headed by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno – in order to ensure an “unequivocal and full separation” between the office that manages the Vatican’s assets (APSA) and the one that exercises vigilance over (or monitors) that management (SFE).

“I intend to confirm the fundamental line that it is necessary to separate the direct management of assets from the tasks of control and vigilance over management activities,” the pope says in the new decree.

“To that end, it is of the utmost importance that bodies responsible for vigilance are separated from those that are being overseen,” he writes.

In essence this means the only area of Vatican finances that will be directly controlled by Pell’s office are human resources and payroll. APSA resumes full control of asset management, purchasing and contracts, as well as support services such as information technology.

Many in the Vatican are shaking their heads because, after spending millions of dollars on big-name, international consultancy companies to help reform the Holy See’s financial management, it seems like everything has returned to the way things were before Pope Francis even began the costly reforms.

It seems as if the new Secretariat for the Economy has merely been given a more beefed-up role of oversight – and with some real teeth – than that which the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See (now in institutional limbo) was originally intended to have.

I am not surprised.

Pope Francis has been absolutely clear since the first days of his pontificate that he longs for a “poor Church for the poor”.

And while he was given a mandate by the cardinals that elected him Bishop of Rome in March 2013 to carry out sweeping financial reforms at the Vatican, the new pope initially gave every indication that his preference was to free the Church’s central bureaucracy from the often murky business of managing its own finances and properties.

His preference seemed to be to close down the so-called Vatican Bank and, like a diocese, use credible institutions not controlled or owned by the Holy See for all its financial services.

“St Peter never had a bank account,” he said more than once in the first months as pope.

But to no avail. There are too many people with vested interests in keeping the bank and other services operating.

Financial reform will continue in fits and starts, with one step forward and one step back. But this is not Francis’ major focus or concern. He obviously has bigger fish to fry.

Robert Mickens writes Letters from Rome each week for Global Pulse.  See link: globalpulsemagazine.com

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