ROME -- The Rev. Massimo Cavallo jumped at the chance to go back to school after struggling with maintenance work, suppliers and taxes as the manager of a Catholic students' dormitory in Rome.
The 34-year-old is one of 26 attendees of a pastoral management course inaugurated Feb. 16 at the Pontifical Lateran University for those who manage financial and human resources in parishes, dioceses and other organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church. The 15-month course covers topics such as strategic communication, business ethics and creative problem-solving.
The effort is in line with the Holy See's attempt to close a budget shortfall and comes as Italy strives to emerge from the longest recession since World War II. Pope Francis is also trying to boost efficiency and clean up finances after scandals involving the Vatican Bank and the Holy See's administrative body APSA, which manages real estate and financial holdings of the world's smallest state.
"Making ends meet is not easy," Cavallo said in an interview outside his office filled with stacks of theology books, pictures of him shaking hands with Pope Francis and Francis' two predecessors, and a desktop PC and a calculator.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, has boosted oversight and started an overhaul of the Holy See's financial system by appointing a special commission to scrutinize the Vatican Bank's activities and bolstering efforts to comply with international anti-money-laundering rules. He also established a secretariat for economic issues that's trying to unify the management of several Vatican offices that for centuries operated independently and with little supervision.
"We ecclesiastics, priests fall into traps because of our ingenuity, lack of preparation and ignorance," Rector Monsignor Enrico dal Covolo said in an interview in the papal university's seven-floor library, which contains more than 500,000 books and documents. In most cases, he said, "the absence of transparency is not due to a premeditated scam."
In March 2014, Pope Francis removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after the bishop's $35.3 million new residential complex caused an uproar among the faithful. Shortly afterward, the Atlanta archbishop apologized for building a $2.1 million mansion as his residence using donated money earmarked for religious and charitable use.
Those scandals tainted the image of the church Pope Francis strives for: "Poor, and for the poor."
As part of the drive to improve transparency and cut costs, the Holy See has distributed a manual on economic ethics and accountability in some of its departments.
"As the Gospel teaches us, we shouldn't lend our hearts to wealth, we should take care of it in an opportune way," said dal Covolo.
The Holy See is also trying to put its house in order in the face of budget gaps. It reported a deficit of more than $26.9 million euros in 2013, the latest year for which data are available. Italy is also struggling to pull itself out of recession. As of the end of last year, Italy's economy had not grown since the second quarter of 2011.
That has drawn students to the new class.
Professor Giulio Carpi, head of the university's pastoral management course, said the first class was overbooked, attracting clergy and other lay staff members from countries including Italy, Austria, Slovenia and India.
"We have already planned another course in the autumn, which has yet to be advertised, and 12 people have already registered for that one," he said.
While students take notes on their laptops, history provides some inspiration. Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, smiles from one of the slides projected in the classroom. Pacioli was the first to describe a system of double-entry book-keeping known as the "method of Venice" that was used by merchants in the era.
His 1494 book, The Collected Knowledge of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion and Proportionality, is considered a basis of modern accounting.
Father Cavallo said the management principles may help him cope in today's tough economic climate.
"In the last few years the environment has changed," he said. "So to be properly equipped from this point of view is not only urgent, it's necessary."
Information for this article was contributed by Kevin Costelloe, Alessandra Migliaccio and Alessandro Speciale of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 03/01/2015