VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis told prelates Saturday to shun the “logic of human power,” pressing his campaign to root out corruption and other wrongdoing from the Vatican’s scandal-tainted power structures.
The admonition came a day after the latest embarrassment for the Vatican hierarchy — the arrest by Italian authorities of a Vatican accountant, in a probe of an alleged attempt by the prelate to secure the smuggling of 20 million euros ($26 million) in banknotes from Switzerland into Italy. The Italian monsignor, who was suspended a few weeks earlier from his job in the Vatican’s finance office, is also under investigation in a separate money-laundering probe by prosecutors in southern Italy.
Francis is making reforms aimed at ensuring his papacy’s priorities, which include paying more attention to the world’s poor and concentrating on cultivating spiritual, not material, wealth. He delivered a kind of moral pep talk to church leaders, including Vatican cardinals, gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica for an annual ceremony to welcome newly made archbishops.
“Whenever we let our thoughts, our feelings or the logic of human power prevail, and we do not let ourselves be taught and guided by faith, by God, we become stumbling blocks,” the pope said. “Faith in Christ is the light of our life as Christians and as ministers in the church.”
Francis also put church leaders on guard against “the peril of thinking in worldly terms.”
Earlier in the week, the pope established a commission to look into the Vatican bank, which has long had a reputation as a largely unregulated financial center ripe for exploitation as a tax haven or even for money laundering. The arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, along with an Italian financial broker and a former member of an Italian paramilitary police’s security agency, highlighted the urgency to ensure that Vatican’s financial apparatus is above board.
The Vatican’s curia, or bureaucratic administration, is notorious for rivalries among power-seeking factions. Francis received an authoritative show of support Saturday from an Italian cardinal, Velasio de Paolis, a retired chief of the Vatican’s finance department.
The Vatican “must clean house,” the cardinal told Rome daily Il Messaggero in an interview. “Pope Francis is right to insist on this,” he was quoted as saying. The pope’s reform drive is “valid for all believers, clergy or non-clergy, with a red skullcap or without a red skullcap,” de Paolis said, referring to the crimson headgear that cardinals wear.
De Paolis added that “churchmen ought to be saints, but sometimes they are not.” Referring to the pope’s determination to clean up the Vatican bank, de Paolis said of Francis: “He’s not ingenuous, he knows that the church must have wealth to help those who don’t have it. “
Since cardinals elected Francis as pope in March, the pontiff, a Jesuit from Argentina, has eschewed showy symbols of Vatican wealth, refusing, among other decisions, to reside in the Apostolic Palace. He lives in a hotel on the Vatican grounds, and except for religious ceremonies, wears a simple white cassock instead of fancy robes.