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Pope wants closer look at Vatican’s finance reform

Pope Francis grabs shirt thrown him by faithful as he leaves end his weekly general audience St. Peter's Square Vatican

Pope Francis grabs a shirt thrown to him by faithful as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. A chilly Pope Francis has cheered the thousands of pilgrims who braved a cold snap belting Italy to attend his weekly general audience, saying they were courageous to come out. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday named his top assistant to look into the work of two commissions of inquiry he set up last summer to investigate the finances of the troubled Vatican bank and Holy See administration.

A Vatican statement said papal secretary Monsignor Alfred Xuereb will be Francis’ delegate, “keeping his eye on the committees and keeping him informed in collaboration with the secretariat of state on their working procedures and possible initiatives.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the aim was purely to smooth communication between the pope and the commissions as they intensify their work ahead of meetings between the pope and his eight cardinal advisers.

But the move appears to create a new filter between the commissions and the pope that could raise questions about their independence: Originally, these experts were supposed to report directly to the pope and present him with recommendations.

Thursday’s statement suggests the Maltese-born Xuereb and the Vatican’s powerful secretariat of state will be the pope’s main points of reference for the work of the independent commissions.

Francis first named a study committee for the Vatican bank in June to help clean up the scandal-marred institution that has been the subject of money-laundering investigations by Italian prosecutors.

He named another commission in July to look into the Holy See’s full financial picture to try to provide greater transparency and cut down on waste.

The Holy See’s financial problems were revealed publicly last year with the leaks of papal correspondence by the butler of then-Pope Benedict XVI, which then later appeared in a blockbuster book.

The documents exposed the petty turf battles among Vatican bureaucrats, allegations of corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts and enormous fiscal waste, including the 550,000 euros ($720,115) spent by the Holy See in 2009 for its Christmas Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

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