March 3, 2015 / 5:37 PM / in 3 years

Pope approves legal framework for financial reform

Pope Francis leads a special audience with members of the confederation of Italian cooperatives in Paul VI hall at the Vatican February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis approved detailed new plans to reform Vatican finances on Tuesday, giving the Australian cardinal leading the changes sweeping powers to monitor Vatican departments and ensure budgets conform to international accounting standards.

The statutes had been keenly awaited for signs of how much power would fall to Cardinal George Pell - an outsider Francis brought in to oversee often muddled finances and who, according to Italian media, is viewed skeptically by detractors in the Vatican bureaucracy who feel he has amassed too much power.

The changes were one of the clearest indications to date that Francis is committed to the mandate given him by cardinals who elected him in 2013 to clean up after a series of financial scandals.

The most important of three new norms is one that governs the Secretariat for the Economy, which Pell has headed since it was set up last year. The norms give Pell wide powers, including the monitoring of other Vatican departments, ensuring their budgets conform to international accounting standards and are reviewed by external auditors.

Pell’s Italian critics in the Vatican bureaucracy had asked the pope to name an additional committee of cardinals to oversee his department because they feared he was accumulating too much power, according to Italian media reports.

“Most observers are likely to see the result as a basic win for Pell and his team,” wrote John Allen, author and Vatican analyst for the U.S. Catholic website Crux. Allen noted that the only thing Pell’s department appears to have lost was administration of Vatican-owned real estate in Italy.

Last week Pell was in the news after a leading Italian magazine ran a report about a power struggle in the Vatican over the reforms and alleged excessive expenditure by his department..

The leaking of internal documents to the magazine was seen as an attempt by those opposed to reform to discredit him. The Vatican condemned the leaks, said the department was running under budget and that parts of the report were “fiction”.

Reporting By Philip Pullella

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