ROME – Pope Francis set a 40-euro ($48) gift cap for all Vatican employees Thursday and issued a new law requiring Vatican cardinals and managers to periodically report on their compliance with clean financial practices in one of his biggest efforts yet to crack down on corruption in the Holy See.
The law requires Vatican superiors to declare every two years that they aren't stashing money in tax havens and aren't under criminal investigation for tax evasion, money laundering or other crimes. They also must declare that any investments they hold are in funds consistent with Catholic doctrine.
The crackdown comes as Vatican prosecutors are nearly two years into a corruption investigation involving the Vatican’s investment in a London real estate venture. Francis has preached about cleaning up the Holy See's murky financial practices for eight years, but the new law marks his biggest step yet to ensure his own cardinals and managers are clean.
The most striking part of the law is a measure that, if broadly applied, would amount to a revolution in curial culture: It prohibits any Vatican employee from receiving work-related gifts with a value of over 40 euros ($48).
While “work-related” will likely be open to some interpretation, the prohibition is clearly aimed at cutting down on the sometimes lavish gifts that Vatican officials are accustomed to receiving from wealthy benefactors, friends and fellow clerics.
The practice was highlighted by the recent scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked in 2019 after the Vatican determined he sexually abused minors as well as adult seminarians. McCarrick was a successful fundraiser and was known for giving checks to Vatican officials, leading to speculation that his largesse helped him avoid punishment for his sexual misconduct, which was known in the Holy See as early as the 1990s.
The Vatican’s 2020 in-house investigation into McCarrick’s rise and fall said while his fundraising prowess weighed heavily in his advancement and nomination as archbishop of Washington, there was no evidence that his “customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See.”
In the preamble to the law, Francis wrote that the regulations were necessary “because corruption can manifest itself in different forms and ways.” Vatican superiors, he wrote, “have the particular responsibility of making concrete the fidelity of which the Gospel speaks, acting according to principles of transparency and the absence of any conflicts of interest.”