ROME — In an effort to fight corruption in the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis issued a sweeping new decree on Thursday compelling top managers at the Vatican — including cardinals — to provide full financial disclosures and to refuse any gifts worth more than roughly $50.
In taking aim at matters both large and small — from real estate holdings and investments to work-related gifts given to any Vatican employee — Pope Francis said his goal was to bring the church into accord with best financial practices to ensure transparency and fight corruption.
“According to Scripture, fidelity in small things is related to fidelity in important ones,” the pope wrote, citing the Gospel of Luke. “Just as being dishonest in matters of little consequence is also related to being dishonest in important matters.”
The decree was made in an apostolic letter, under the pope’s own legal authority, and follows another issued last May that made Vatican procurement contracts more transparent.
It requires that all senior managers and administrators sign a declaration stating that they have never been investigated or convicted of crimes involving corruption, fraud, exploitation of minors, human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering or tax evasion. They must update the disclosure every two years.
Senior Vatican staff are now also banned from putting their money in tax havens or in companies based in countries known for money laundering. They cannot own any goods or invest in real estate bought with funds from illegal activity. Nor can they have shares or interests in companies whose policies are contrary to the church’s social doctrine.
In its most recent financial statement, the Vatican bank said that it was committed to “the ethical and social principles of Catholic teaching” in its management and investment policies. Many national bishops conferences — including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — have adopted similar guidelines.
Despite having issued a series of recent documents governing ethical investments, “evidently the pope wanted to limit the behavior of individual persons in a more direct and explicit manner,” said Mauro Magatti, who teaches at the Center for the Anthropology of Religion and Cultural Change at Milan’s Sacred Heart University.
Industries crossing ethical lines could include those that produce weapons or exploit minors. “The list is long, and there is not one precise definition, but involves many activities that in many cases are highly profitable,” Professor Magatti said.
More directly, all Vatican employees are barred from receiving gifts worth more than 40 euros, or about $50. The cap on gifts, Professor Magatti said, revealed that the pope understood that the “border between a gift and corruption could be very ephemeral.”
It’s significant that the restrictions apply to anyone in senior management at the Vatican, not only those who work in financial sectors, said Carlo Marroni, who reports on the Vatican for the economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore. “Many positions can be influential, even if they don’t handle money directly,” he said.
The law, Mr. Marroni said, was part of the pope’s push for greater transparency in the Vatican’s financial sector.
It is also part of an effort to hold church officials accountable. In January, a Vatican court convicted a former official at the Vatican bank, signaling that the church was serious about punishing financial crimes.
“Corruption can be manifested in different manners and forms even in various sectors other than that of procurement,” the pope wrote in the preamble to the decree, explaining the need for further regulations.
Francis said the new rules were in keeping with the guidelines of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Anyone found making a false declaration can be fired, the pope added, tasking the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy with ensuring that declarations are truthful.
“It may not be in the Vatican’s style,” Professor Magatti said of the pope’s decision to adopt the best practices of business, “but it is behavior that is opportune to adopt.”
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