Vatican unexpectedly suspends independent financial audit

Print More
A general view is seen of Pope Francis leading the Easter mass in St. Peter's square at the Vatican March 27, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-AUDIT, originally transmitted on April 21, 2016.

A general view is seen of Pope Francis leading the Easter mass in St. Peter's square at the Vatican March 27, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-AUDIT, originally transmitted on April 21, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has put a stop to the work of international auditors just months after they were hired to review the city-state’s bookkeeping — a move said to have surprised Pope Francis’ handpicked financial czar, Cardinal George Pell.

The suspension earlier this month of the audit, well underway by the global firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, was also viewed as threatening the pope’s broader efforts to clean up the Vatican’s murky finances.

Italian Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a top official in the Secretariat of State, announced the move in an internal Vatican letter dated April 12. In the note, Becciu said that previous orders by Pell to cooperate with PwC had been revoked by “superior provision,” according to the Catholic news site Crux.

The decision came just four months after PwC was appointed to review the financial statements at the heart of the Catholic Church. That moved followed years of scandals and misfeasance and the disclosure by the Vatican that 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in assets had not been declared by its various departments.

The Vatican did not provide further details about why the audit was suspended. Chief spokesman Federico Lombardi told RNS on Thursday (April 21) that an analysis was underway of “some aspects of the agreement” with PwC. The firm said it would not be able to comment on a client.

Pell’s role in the decision remained unclear, with the cardinal reportedly saying he was “a bit surprised” by the Secretariat of State’s decision. Speaking to the National Catholic Register, Pell said he thought the audit would “resume shortly” after discussions of some issues.

The Australian prelate was appointed by Francis in 2014 to overhaul Vatican finances, although his work in Rome has been overshadowed by an inquiry into sexual abuse in his home country. Pell has denied allegations from victims that he was aware of the widespread abuse of children in Australia.

The pope met with Pell on Thursday; details of their discussion were not made public.

  • carrotcakeman

    Accounting professionals know that when a client fires an auditing firm in mid-audit, the auditing firm has found a “smoking gun.” I suspect PWC signed a confidentiality agreement and that they will honor their commitment–but their silence will speak volumes.

  • Betty Clermont

    The suspension was viewed by real reporters as the pope’s efforts to hide his finances, not as a “broader efforts to clean up the Vatican’s murky finances.” The news first appeared in Italia Oggi newspaper. “They’re afraid of the audit uncovering information they don’t want uncovered and are worried about losing sovereign control over Vatican finances.” Crux: “concern has to do with provisions of the contract allowing PwC to disseminate financial information about the Vatican internally, and, at least in theory, also with external agents with whom the firm collaborates … Though Becciu’s name is on the letter, it’s understood that it would not have been issued without the authorization of Pope Francis.”