VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican administrators need a "change of mentality" and must ensure that the Holy See's finances are efficient, transparent and primarily aimed at helping the most needy, Pope Francis said on Friday.
The pope made his comments in an address to the members of a newly formed body called the Council for the Economy, a 15-member group of prelates and lay people from around the world which will be setting economic policy for the Holy See and exercising oversight.
"A new mentality of service to the gospel should take root in the various administrations of the Holy See," Francis said. The new council will have "a significant role in this process of reform", he said.
Francis' appointment of the outside council of experts, whose members were named last month, was his latest attempt to come to grips with what he has called a hidebound and self-centred Vatican administration.
The 15 council members come from 12 countries. None is a Vatican bureaucrat. They will give economic policy guidance to a new department called the Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell. Pell is also an outsider who has held no previous job in the Vatican.
The establishment in February of both the secretariat and the council as well as the position of an auditor-general revolutionised the Vatican's scandal-plagued finances by inviting outside experts into a world often seen as murky and secretive.
Francis, who was elected in March 2013 with a mandate for reform, told the council members that the Church's finances had to be in the service of "its evangelical mission with particular concern for the needy."
"We must not stray from the path - transparency, efficiency. It is all for this aim," he said.
In another sign that he wants to rid the Church of the clerical self-centeredness held responsible for some of its past scandals, Francis said the cardinals and bishops on the body would have no privileges.
NO CLERICAL PRIVILEGES
He told the lay financial experts that they were "not second-class members ... everyone is on the same level".
Two Vatican departments, its bank, whose official name is Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) have been at the centre of scandals in recent years.
Italian magistrates are investigating the bank on charges of violating anti-money laundering procedures. The Vatican dismisses the charges.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who worked as a senior accountant at APSA for 22 years and who had close ties to the IOR, is currently on trial, accused of plotting to smuggle millions of dollars into Italy from Switzerland to help rich friends avoid taxes.
Scarano has also been indicted on charges of laundering millions of euros through the IOR. He says the money in his accounts at the IOR were donations, which Italian magistrates dispute. The IOR carried out its own investigation of Scarano and shared its findings with the Italians.
In the 14 months under the leadership of its German president, Ernst von Freyberg, the IOR has closed hundreds of accounts, instituted strict anti-money laundering regulations and launched several investigations into suspicious activities.
Francis considered closing the bank. He has decided to keep it operative but with a programme of continuing reforms.