The Vatican

What has and has not changed in the so-called "Vatican Bank".

The Institute for the Works of Religion has had a new statute since March 7. A chirograph that, however, does not bring great novelties although it does change the governing body.

Andrea Gagliarducci-March 10, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: A group of Swiss Guardsmen pass in front of the headquarters of the Institute for Works of Religion ©CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

It's called, really, Institute for the Works of Religionand many consider it the "Vatican bank". But it is not a bank, it is a financial institution created to serve subjects linked to the Catholic Church (from employees of the Curia to religious congregations; from dioceses to embassies accredited to the Holy See) and to allocate the profits, precisely, to "religious works".

Although its name has often been linked, rightly and wrongly, to scandals, the IOR is an agency of the Holy See that has its raison d'être precisely in the need to provide the Holy See with independence in managing and distributing funds and carrying out its mission. Pope Francis has reformed it, for the second time in a few years.

On March 7, the following laws were enacted new statutes of the Institute for the Works of Religion, also known as IOR. Just three and a half years ago, the IOR already had a new statute, replacing St. John Paul II's chirograph of 1990.

However, it is wrong to think that the new statutes present substantial novelties. They are mainly adjustments, some minor novelties and, in the case of the latter statute, a new adjustment to the new constitution of the Curia, the Praedicate EvangeliumThe term of the appointments, which are for a five-year term, has been reduced to five years.

A bit of history

The history of the IOR begins in 1942, when Pius XII established the Institute for the Works of Religion in Vatican City, with juridical personality, absorbing into it the pre-existing Administration for the Works of Religion.

The statute of the IOR had been approved by Pope Pacelli himself on March 17, 1941 and had its first origin in the Commission ad pias causas established by Leo XIII in 1887.

John Paul II regulated the IOR with a chirograph in 1990. Pope Francis renewed the statute in 2019. But what changes, what remains and what is missing in the new statutes?

What remains

The IOR remains autonomous with regard to personnel selection and also salaries, which therefore deviate from the general salary levels of the Roman Curia (Article 27 of the Statute).

The organs of the Institute are maintained: the Cardinal's Commission, the Prelate, the Council of Superintendence, the Directorate.

The terms of office are all for five years with the possibility of a single renewal, as defined by Praedicate Evangelium and as, in any case, already established by the 2019 Statute.

As for the Cardinal Commission, it is certain that it will be the cardinals who will elect its presidents, and they will also elect the prelate of the IOR.

The latest additions to the 2019 Bylaws also remain: the outsourcing of auditors, the increase in the number of the lay governing board from five to seven, and some restrictions on the temporal extension of appointments.

What changes

The governing body changes. In 2019, it was structured with a principal and a vice principal, appointed by the Board of Superintendents with the approval of the cardinal commission.

Under the new bylaws, the management becomes a monocratic body, and the director has all the powers, and is only obliged to submit to the Board of Superintendence any act that is not within his competence. In addition, "in cases of urgency, the Chief Executive Officer may be authorized to act outside his competence by the Chairman of the Board of Superintendence, who shall hear at least one of the other members of the Board. The determination, signed by the Director General and effective immediately vis-à-vis third parties, must, however, be submitted for ratification by the Board of Superintendence at its first useful meeting".

The figure of the Deputy Director is maintained, but this is only a function that the General Manager may delegate from time to time.

Therefore, the Director has more powers and manages and administers the Institute. The Superintendent Council, on the other hand, has the function of defining the strategic lines, general policies and supervision of the IOR's activities.

The Cardinal Commission and the Council of Superintendence will have a non-simultaneous mandate, that is, they will not expire together. Therefore, there will be a time when the Council of Superintendence will act with a new Cardinal Commission, and vice versa.

A conflict of interest provision is also included, according to which "each member of the Board of Superintendence shall abstain from voting on resolutions in which he/she has an interest, real or potential, on his/her own behalf or on behalf of third parties".

The General Director continues to be appointed by the Council of Superintendence and approved by the Cardinal Commission, but from now on "from a list of at least three suitable candidates". He may be hired for an indefinite or permanent term.

What is missing

What is missing in the Statute? There is no mention of the supervisory framework to which the IOR belongs, nor of the Authority of Surveillance and Financial Intelligence, which is the body that oversees the operations of the IOR. It seems, in short, that the IOR remains a kind of institute in itself, almost alien to the great reform of Vatican finances desired by Pope Francis.

An impression that is reinforced by the fact that the IOR can only accept deposits between entities and persons of the Holy See and Vatican City State. This is a wording that was already present in the 2019 Statute, which, however, did not go so far as to include other users of the IOR, such as dioceses and parishes, but also institutes of canon law and embassies to the Holy See. 

Both the supervisory framework and the range of customers are mentioned in the official website of the InstituteIt is therefore surprising that they are not included in the new bylaws.

These omissions suggest that further adjustments will have to be made. Rather than real reforms, these are adaptations to the new rules and regulations. But the IOR remains an independent body, supervised by the Authority for Surveillance and Financial Intelligence, but is not part of the Roman Curia.

The authorAndrea Gagliarducci

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