According to a Reuters wire story, Pope Francis announced last week that he has formed a new committee of lay advisors from around the world that will have broad, unprecedented powers at the church’s highest levels. Encouraged to do so by his eight-cardinal advisory committee, this move marks a significant change in the way that the Vatican power structure had been previously organized. The wire story explains: “Made up of seven international lay experts and one cleric, the commission will report directly to the pope and advise him on economic affairs, improving transparency and enforcing accounting principles. Its members will have the right to examine any paper and digital document in the Vatican.”
The particular details of what this committee’s immediate agenda entails remain unclear, but in further counter-intuitive Vatican bureaucratic style, reports suggest that this committee will be convened and meet with the pope as soon as he returns from his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day this week.
The new commission’s lay members are experts in economics, finance, management and law and come from Spain, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malta and France, the Vatican said in a statement. The cleric will act as the commission’s secretary.
It will draft reforms of the Holy See’s institutions to simplify how they work and improve the way they manage their finances.
They will advise Vatican departments and find ways to “avoid the misuse of economic resources, to improve transparency in the processes of purchasing goods and services”, the statement said.
Francis ordered all Vatican departments to collaborate with the commission and bypass usual rules that oblige officials to respect the secrecy of their office.
In reporting directly to the pope, the commission, which Francis set up with a personal decree known as a “chirografo”, will bypass the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, its chief administrative office which itself has been hit by allegations of scandal and corruption.
The new commission was Francis’ third bold move to reform badly tarnished Vatican institutions.
One month after his election, he set up an advisory board of cardinals from around the world to help him govern the Catholic Church and reform its administration.
Last month, in an attempt to get to grips with an institution that has embarrassed the Catholic Church for decades, he set up a special commission of inquiry to reform the scandal-plagued Vatican bank.
While cynics and cautious commentators will, with good reason, hesitate when commenting on the possible longterm impacts of such actions on the part of Pope Francis, nevertheless I have a feeling that this is a hopeful move in the right direction. For decades women and men of good will have been pushing for more lay and, particularly, female influence in the highest echelons of church authority — here is a practical instance when non-clerics have the potential for incredibly positive influence on decisions regarding finances, law, and other pressing issues of our contemporary age.
I certainly applaud the effort signaled by this new committee and look forward to seeing what practical influence its members might have on church policy, layers of antiquated bureaucracy, and deeply ingrained clericalism. Pope Francis continues to demonstrate an intuitive sense of Gospel living, which — in little and big ways — appears to this son of St. Francis to reflect the pope’s namesake in positive ways… at least for now.
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that few media outlets have covered this story — I cannot understand why. Here are two additional verifying sources from Catholic News Service and Vatican Radio confirming the foundation of this commission with its unique powers.
UPDATE: According to Vatican Radio, here are the names of the commission members:
Dr. Joseph FX Zahra (Malta), President
Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (Secretary of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs), Secretary
Mr Jean-Baptiste de Franssu (France)
Dr. Enrique Llano (Spain)
Dr. Jochen Messemer (Germany)
Ms. Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui (Italy)
Mr. Jean Videlain-Sevestre (France)
Mr. George Yeo (Singapore)