Vatican reform in discussion phase, bank in transition, spokesman says

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Consultations and assessments concerning the overhaul of the Vatican bureaucracy and its finances continued as Pope Francis met for a fifth series of meetings with his international Council of Cardinals.

Also, "further clarifications" about significant changes at the Vatican bank were "possible, indeed, likely" to be announced in the next several days, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters July 2.

In response to news stories reporting that Ernst von Freyberg, the bank's current president, would be replaced soon, Lombardi said the bank "is in a time of natural and peaceful transition."

"The contribution of Ernst von Freyberg continues to be deeply appreciated and highly valued, and further clarifications are possible, indeed likely, next week after the meeting of the Council for the Economy," he said. Von Freyberg, a German industrialist, was appointed to head the beleaguered bank in 2013 after his predecessor, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted by the bank's board for "failure to carry out basic duties."

The new Council for the Economy, an international group of eight cardinals and seven lay experts charged with setting policies for the administrative and financial activities of all Vatican offices and bodies, met Saturday.

Council members were "informed about developments" relating to the Vatican bank and received last year's final budget report as well as the 2014 budget forecast from the Vatican budget office, Lombardi said.

The oversight council, which Pope Francis established in February, also discussed its statutes and was to set an agenda for its future work, the spokesman said.

During its July meeting, the Council of Cardinals also delved more deeply into "the issue of the new structure" of the Vatican bank and had in attendance four of the five cardinal members of the Commission of Cardinals Overseeing the Institute for the Works of Religion, the commission overseeing the Vatican bank.

The council, originally an eight-member group advising the pope on the reform of the Vatican's organization and church governance, officially became a group of nine members with the formal addition of Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who had been attending their meetings all along.

Briefing the press Friday, Lombardi said Pope Francis had joined the cardinals for the four-day meeting. The cardinals, he said, described the discussion as "free, frank and friendly."

The July meeting began with a review of the governing structure of Vatican City State; Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, a member of the Council of Cardinals and president of the commission governing the city-state, gave a presentation, Lombardi said.

The group also listened to a presentation by Parolin about the Secretariat of State. The secretariat is divided into two large sections: One supervises a vast global diplomatic network of Vatican nuncios and the other oversees the work of the entire Roman Curia. The conversation included a discussion about how the nuncios are chosen, Lombardi said.

In addition, Lombardi said, the pope and cardinals discussed how bishops currently are chosen for dioceses around the world, although he did not say if they made suggestions for changing the process.

The council is still gathering information and considering possibilities for the structure of the Roman Curia, he said, and it would be too soon "to speak of drafts" of a new apostolic constitution implementing the reforms.

The council is "taking into consideration and systematically developing the reflections already formulated in the first round of study and review of the different bodies of the Roman Curia," he said.

At the July meeting the nine cardinals looked particularly at the pontifical councils for the laity and for the family, he said, and emphasized "the contributions of laity, married couples and women" to the work of both councils. No other council or congregation has such a high percentage of laypeople as full members.

Although rumors continue to circulate that the two councils will be combined and become a congregation, Lombardi said "no decision about future structures" had been made.

The Council of Cardinals set its future meetings for Sept. 15-15, Dec. 9-11 and Feb. 9-11, he said.

[Cindy Wooden at the Vatican contributed to this story.]

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