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Fortune: This pope means business

14. aug. 2014

Shawn Tully,  Fortune Magazine skriver bl.a.:

The wildly popular Francis is more than a pontiff of the people. He’s an elite manager who’s reforming the Vatican’s troubled finances.

The new pope wanted to talk about money. That was the message that went out to a group of seven prominent financiers—major Catholics all—from around the world in the summer of 2013. Barely five months after the shocking resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis had summoned them to assemble at the seat of holy power, the Vatican. They knew their general assignment: to create a plan to restructure the Vatican’s scandal-plagued finances. And like Catholics everywhere, they knew that Francis had already signaled that he was a new kind of pontiff, a “people’s pope” who championed charity and tolerance over dogma. Still, they didn’t know what to expect when they arrived at the Vatican for a meeting with the pope on the first Saturday in August. How interested was he in finance, really? And how serious was he about changing business as usual inside the Vatican?

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Although it’s too early to make a definitive judgment, the “Francis effect” appears to be reversing the church’s fortunes. Mass attendance is surging in Italy, for instance. The Jesuits, Francis’s religious order, are seeing more inquiries about priestly vocations. And donations are on the rise at dioceses around the world.

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His central idea was revolutionary: Money matters are not a core competency of the clergy, as the record shows. So he began replacing the old guard of cardinals and bishops with lay experts who are now largely setting strategy, heading regulatory oversight, and running day-to-day operations.

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One of his rules is that big donors and companies that do business with the church should get no special treatment. Before he took charge in Buenos Aires, the archdiocese was a large shareholder in Argentine banks, and the banks regularly granted their ecclesiastical investor loans on easy terms. As cardinal, Francis denounced the arrangement as a blatant conflict of interest and sold all the archdiocese’s bank holdings. He also refused to attend fundraising dinners, usually regarded as one of a cardinal’s top jobs. His aversion to catering to the wealthy didn’t stop with his ascension to the papacy. It’s a Vatican tradition that the Secretariat of State, which receives donations from the rich on the pontiff’s behalf, would reward big donors by arranging special audiences and masses with the pope. Pope Francis ended the practice.

Pope Francis is a strong believer in workers’ rights. But that view is highly nuanced. He has famously denounced the excesses of capitalism and firmly believes that the rich get too much from the market economy while regular workers often don’t receive enough. In contrast to his readiness to ax high-ranking officials who block his agenda, he doesn’t believe in firing rank-and-file employees. But he despises waste and inefficiency, and he thinks the Vatican can run better with fewer employees.

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Pell meets with Pope Francis once every two weeks at Casa Santa Marta to brief him on the progress being made by their handpicked team of financial experts. He describes the pope as a good example of the “old-style Jesuit” who “knows which way is up” and asks the right questions. To serve his higher calling as a pope of the people, Francis knows, he must continue to keep one eye on the bottom line.

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