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Rome Reports

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Cardinal Pell: Working at the Vatican was exhausting, but we've made a lot of progress

In June of 2017, Card. George Pell decided to return to Australia to respond to abuse accusations against him. He didn't imagine he would end up in prison.

One of the risks of his departure was the interruption of economic reforms he himself had spearheaded at Pope Francis' request.

Now, in Rome, he's presenting the journal he kept during his 404 days in jail. He looks with satisfaction at the reforms still well underway.

Former Head of Vatican Secretariat for the Economy
“We have made progress. There's no doubt about it, and we have a modern methodology. It's not perfect by any manner or means. We still don't have a powerful external auditor. I'm not sure there's been appointed yet a permanent auditor within the Vatican. So there are things… A lot of abuse has been revealed, and that has been made more possible by the reforms we introduced. We are much better placed now to know where we are.”

The cardinal explains that his years in Rome, as the head of the Secretariat for the Economy, were difficult, detrimental even to his health.

Former Head of Vatican Secretariat for the Economy
“A number of people said, even while my case was going on, that I looked in better health, and I think one reason for that was I was out of Rome. It's very exhausting, fighting to try to get the right thing done in a bureaucracy, very frustrating, very exhausting.”

He now confesses that many aspects of his work were sources of worry. He said there was no lack of suspicious incidents involving his collaborators.

Former Head of Vatican Secretariat for the Economy
“I remember Danny Casey, who was my executive officer in the reforms. He did a great job. He started to get interested in the sum of 50 million, and a day or two later, a car was burnt just outside his residence. Now I'm sure that was a coincidence. Cars catch fire all the time, but nonetheless, it's interesting.”

The cardinal is still worried about the Holy See's current financial situation, which the pandemic has rendered more delicate.

Former Head of Vatican Secretariat for the Economy
“We had, in my time, a structural deficit of 20, 25 million euros a year. The last two years before Covid, Fr. Guerrero, my successor, said the losses were 50 million a year. I don't know what they will be with Covid, perhaps double that, certainly greater than 50. Now that is on a budget of 300 million plus every year.”

George Pell was the first Vatican Secretary for the Economy. His successor is Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves. The role is key in Pope Francis' reform plans.

It's a titanic task that began with reforming the Vatican bank, followed by removing many of its clients, and finally, revoking managerial power of funds reserved to the Secretariat of State.

It's a difficult cleansing process that has brought to light many scandals, but that will give future popes more peace of mind.