Pope Francis has decided to centre his pontificate on Church renewal in the spirit of poverty. The Motu Proprio “Fidelis Dispensatur et Prudens”, the Statutes of the three economic bodies (Council for the Economy, Secretariat for the Economy, Auditor General) along with the Motu Proprio “Temporal Goods” of past July 4, should be read through those lenses. The latter in particular has redesigned the relations between the Secretariat for the Economy and APSA – the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See – that deals with the provisions owned by the Holy See in Italy and abroad, acting as a sort of central bank, (or rather as a treasury). Thus it constitutes the missing tile in the attempt of introducing the Planning- Programming-Budgeting System (PPDS system) within the economic and financial governance of the Holy See and of the Vatican City. Ensuring the proper functioning of this system – that has been thoroughly tested in the public and private sectors – and avoiding distortions, requires a complex control system involving, with different assignments, both the Secretariat for the Economy in terms of monitoring economic and administrative and accounting procedures, and the Office of the Auditor General, as regards financial audit.
Thus, far from questioning the Church’s right to possess the material means to carry out her mission, it is a question of reflecting on the recipients of these goods and their correct use.
In fact, a poor Church for the poor is a Church that puts all of her goods at the service of her mission, following the example of Christ and attentively caring for what she has been entrusted, as a fidelis dispensator et prudens (Luke, 12,42). Temporal goods legitimately owned by the Church, cannot be used by the latter to serve herself. In fact, such goods should be put at the service of her mission, following the example of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (…) All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2: 42-44s). Thus first of all, it is necessary to clear up the uncertainty inferring that a poor Church for the poor refers to a Church without material means. Second,
Since Church renewal in the spirit of poverty extends beyond the need for justice, that is part and parcel of the very nature of the Church, the aspect requiring further reflection involves the ways to ensure the appropriate use of material resources, thereby entailing the establishment of a solid legal framework
whose centre, using the apt terms of John Paul II ,contained in the encyclical Centesimus annus (42), is ethical and religious – capable of acting as the structure of the financial and economic activities of the Church. The reforms introduced by Francis invites the Church to focus her attention on “her call to safeguard and carefully administer her goods in light of her mission of evangelization, with special care for the needy” fo, “the responsibility of the economic and financial sectors of the Holy See is intimately linked to its own particular mission, not only in its service to the Holy Father in the exercise of his universal ministry but also with respect to how they correspond to the common good in light of integral human development.” In fact,
the more goods are available, the better will the available resources be managed, the more the Church will be able to carry out her mission.
On the wake of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, as the previous ones, also this Motu Proprio reaffirms the instrumentality of the use of temporal goods on the part of the Church vis a vis the fulfilment of her mission, for it is precisely in this instrumentality bond that are found the reasons for the Church’s ownership of the above-mentioned goods. Following the example of Christ, who was rich and became poor (2 Corinthians, 8:9), the ecclesial community is called to live the same spirit of poverty also in the management of its temporal goods. In practical terms, these reflections are not without consequence for the lawfulness of the Church’s ownership of goods depends on their effective need, in order to fulfil ecclesial purposes. The existing relationship based on the need of temporal goods (means) in the light of pursued goals ascribes to those with administrative and management responsibilities of such goods a special diligence that encompasses the practice of human virtues and the adoption of transparent tools in the management of Church patrimony, both in terms of the so-called “end” goods (namely those that serve the end goal) and of the “instrumental goods” (i.e. those that serve the goal in an indirect manner by providing an income).
Francis’ commitment for a poor Church for the poor epitomizes the Pontiff’s determination to characterise his pontificate with the attempt to ensure the institutional conditions – as well as those of ethical and religious nature – for the correct use of Church resources and their preferential destination for the poor and for those excluded by the throw away society.
These reforms – and their reference to the Church’s responsibility to protect and carefully handle her goods, in the light of her mission and of the preferential option for the poor – represent the cornerstone of a new legal-institutional framework that must encompass the management of ecclesial resources. In this way they will usher in a new process that will bring the Church – following the teachings of the Second Vatican Council – to redefine her organizational and operative structure with the aim of efficiently responding to the needs of our times while spreading a renewed spirit of service within ecclesial institutions.