By Andrea Gagliarducci
The recent appointment of new rulers in Vatican City State shows Pope Francis’ determination to break some circuits of power, while preserving the finances of the smallest state in the world.
On November 4, the pope unexpectedly selected Franciscan Sister Raffaella Petrini as Secretary General of the Vatican Governorate. He also for the first time appointed an assistant secretary, Giuseppe Puglisi-Alibrandi.
The choice of Petrini is a sign. Pope Francis has selected someone outside of the governorship dynamic to run a state machine strained by the pandemic.
The budget for the Vatican City State administration has not been released since 2016. Financial management remains a mystery. We also talked about the need to tidy up and rationalize the accounts.
By choosing Petrini, Pope Francis shows once again the will to reform, based on relationships.
He also did this with the administrative office of the Vatican Secretariat of State. After 12 years of leadership of Mgr. Alberto Perlasca, Pope Francis called the Lithuanian Mgr. Rolandas Makrickas, who had just arrived at the Secretariat of State after serving in the nunciature in Washington, DC
Other choices in the Vatican financial sector also went in this direction: the appointment of Fabio Gasperini as Secretary of the Patrimony Administration of the Apostolic See (APSA) to the appointment of Maximino Caballero Ledo as Secretary of the Secretariat for the Economy. In both cases, the Pope selected lay people with considerable experience outside the Vatican to deal with critical issues related to financial reform.
Petrini’s appointment fits into this context. But the pope’s decision has also been interpreted as giving more leadership responsibilities to women. This policy resulted in a series of appointments, including that of Sr Nathalie Becquart as assistant secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Sr Alessandra Smerilli as the interim secretary of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, and Barbara Jatta as director from the Vatican Museums.
But Petrini’s appointment should not be read only from this angle. It is indeed a woman in a position hitherto reserved for an archbishop. But it is also true that the governorate does not have such a well-defined tradition.
The first governor was a layman: Camillo Serafini, an Italian nobleman who remained under the constitution of the Vatican City State from 1929 to 1953, the year of his death.
The post of governor remained vacant until 2000, when John Paul II created the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and gave the president the functions that previously belonged to the governor.
The president has always been a cardinal and therefore the secretary has been archbishop. But nothing prevented the secretary from being secular or religious.
More than anything else, it is interesting to note that the secretary is now for the first time assisted by an assistant secretary.
Until his new appointment, Puglisi-Alibrandi had been the first consultant to the legal department of the machine that runs the Vatican City State. In this role, he worked closely alongside Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, then secretary of the governorate. Vérgez, who became archbishop, was appointed President of the Vatican City State administration in September.
The appointment of Petrini serves to break certain chains of knowledge and to give a new modus operandi to the governorate. But the appointment of Puglisi-Alibrandi aims to ensure continuity of management.
The governorate faces two main problems. The first is that of financial management, because the governorate – thanks to the Vatican Museums – is the only Vatican body to make substantial profits. The governorate budget has generally been used to amortize the so-called “mission budget” of the Roman Curia, which does not generate profits.
And yet, the governorate’s budget has not been released for years, despite the intention to arrive at a consolidated budget that includes all Vatican entities.
Fabio Gasperini, who worked as a consultant at Ernst & Young, also proposed an independent accounting model for the governorate. But the administration decided to keep the production of internal financial statements firmly in its hands, by developing an ad hoc computer program called Project One.
Now, however, Gasperini has become number two in APSA, the treasury of the Holy See, and is tasked with streamlining administration and making APSA increasingly the “central bank” of the Vatican. In this work he will find the support of Puglisi-Alibrandi.
The second issue is that of employee insurance. Among the lay members of the Vatican Economic Council is Alberto Minali, the former CEO of Cattolica who previously worked at Generali, a major Italian insurance company. Minali is considered a possible bridge between Cattolica and Generali.
The governorate has an insurance contract for its employees with Cattolica, which has faced economic problems. Cattolica financed a recapitalization thanks to Generali. The Vatican has followed this recapitalization closely, as Cattolica manages all governorate policies.
Within Cattolica there is a business unit of religious entities, created by Piero Fusco, which is the link between the Vatican and the insurance companies, and has a close link with Puglisi-Alibrandi, which manages the policies through the legal office.
Puglisi-Alibrandi, which is close to Vérgez, will be called upon to draw the finances of the governorate in a new way, bringing them into the consolidated balance sheet of the Curia. He will also be asked to keep an eye on the Vatican Museums, which are affected by the coronavirus crisis and now in the difficult situation of having to deal with employee complaints.
But Puglisi-Alibrandi will not be able to do so in total autonomy. He will have to work alongside Petrini and give in-depth explanations. Thus, Pope Francis has guaranteed a kind of external control in the management of potentially thorny situations.
After all, the Pope’s financial reform requires these decisions. When faced with problems, he first changes people, tries to break the circuits of intimate friendships by bringing in people from outside, and refers above all to people in whom he trusts or over whom he is sure of power. to count. All of this precedes structural reforms. And this is currently happening with the governorate.