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mercado-thumbBy John Allen of Boston Globe

By now, one thing ought to be abundantly clear about Pope Francis: Faced with attempts to hobble his reform efforts through character assassination of his reformers, this pope just doesn’t blink.
The latest case is Australian Cardinal George Pell,. Francis put him in charge of leading an historic clean-up of Vatican finances over a year ago. The hard-charging former Australian Rules Football brawler has more than his fair share of critics. But early March , Francis issued a set of statutes for his operation. To some extent at least, they amount to a vindication for Pell.
The statutes were signed by the pope on Feb. 22 and actually took effect March 1.)
Early reaction to the decision has been mixed. Predictably, . some Italian commentators dubbed it as a defeat for Pell’s ambition to create a “super-dicastery,” . In layman’s lingo, that means a Vatican department with virtually unlimited powers over both administration and vigilance of all Vatican assets.
Measured against what was realistically on the table, most observers are likely to see the result as a basic win for Pell and his team. That will be clearer when all the dust settles.
Francis approved a legal framework for all three new financial oversight bodies he launched last year: (a) The 15-member Council for the Economy, which sets policy ( b ) Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy, which implements it; and ( c ) A new independent auditor general, charged with keeping everyone “on the straight and narrow”
What’s most notable about the statutes isn’t so much what’s in them, but what isn’t.
In the run-up to the pope’s decision, a number of veteran Vatican insiders had suggested imposing new limits on Pell and his Secretariat for the Economy, fueled by perceptions that he had amassed excessive control.
Italian Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, formalized that discontent. He first presented a series of suggested amendments to the Council for the Economy.
Among other things, Coccopalmerio proposed creating a new group of four of five cardinals who would ride herd on Pell; limiting the role and influence of the lay financial experts who serve on the Council for the Economy, and who are widely perceived as Pell allies; and slicing off some of the Vatican’s biggest financial players, such as the Government of the Vatican City State, from Pell’s purview.
All would have been seen as significant new curbs., But none of them happened. Instead, the council largely rejected them, and then passed them on onto the pope
The most important substantive change came in a decision to take back administration of the Vatican’s real estate holdings from Pell’s department, which it assumed last July when the “ordinary” section of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) was transferred to the Secretariat for the Economy.
One suggestion Francis did adopt from Coccopalmerio was to add two assistant auditors to work with the new auditor general, presumably providing greater professional capacity for that office.
Francis added a small but telling decision of backing for the Australian prelate, He spurned a suggestion from Coccopalmerio that English be eliminated as a working language in the new offices, in favor of the Vatican’s typical insistence on Italian.
The qualified thumbs-up is striking, given the ferocity of recent efforts to bring Pell down.
In September, steamy exposés in the Italian press focused on Pell’s record in handling sexual abuse complaints while he served as the archbishop of Sydney in Australia. Criticism from an Australian Royal Commission might weaken Pell
Last week, the anti-Pell campaign leaked receipts from his department showing it had managed to spend more than a half million dollars in its first few months of operation .When Pell tried to notch a success, somebody inside the system has fired back, “ Allen points out
When he claimed in December to have uncovered hundreds of millions of euros in hidden assets, for instance, officials in the Secretariat of State prepared a memorandum insisting those funds were perfectly legitimate and had been set aside for unforeseen expenses.
The memo was leaked to the press, forcing Pell to scramble to defend his alleged discovery.
The same thing happened in February when Pell briefed cardinals on where things stand, among other things saying his office had found an almost $1 billion shortfall in the Vatican pension fund. Days later, officials of the fund issued a statement insisting that it’s in good shape and rejecting “alarmist” accounts of its viability.
In the end, none of that was sufficient to cause the pontiff to abandon Pell. It’s not a terribly surprising. “Wwe’ve seen this show before”.
In 2013. , Francis tapped Italian Monsignor Battista Ricca as his delegate to the Vatican bank., Ricca was to oversee a clean-up operation in the bank
Shortly thereafter, the Italian news magazine l’Espresso claimed Ricca had been involved in gay relationships while serving as a papal diplomat in Uruguay a decade before.
There was no suggestion of sexual abuse or criminal conduct but Francis did not blink . Ricca remains on the job
There’s grumbling about speeches by Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. He was picked by Francis to coordinate his “G9” council of cardinal advisors.
“Rodriguez seems to regard himself as a vice-pope,” sneer critics, “He reveals details of the council’s work or floats ideas before anyone else. Despite that, there’s zero indication that Francis has blinked and will as the Honduran prelate to step aside.
“The moral of the story is if one of the pope’s chosen reformers is a burr under your saddle, probably the last thing you want to do is leak damaging information or engage in a whispering campaign.”, Allen wrote.

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