Vatican City: Pope Francis's drive to clean up the Vatican's finances has taken a significant step forward with the issuing of a financial management manual to Church officials.
The rulebook, which all members of the Vatican bureaucracy will be required to observe by January 1, is the work of George Pell, the Australian cardinal brought in by Francis to bring the Church's financial management into line with international accounting standards.
In a letter to staff, Pell wrote that the introduction of the manual would be accompanied by a training programme for employees and auditing by external consultants, according to the religious news agency I-media.
Francis signalled his determination to make the Vatican's finances more transparent and less vulnerable to abuse by handing Pell wide-ranging powers as the head of a newly-created Secretariat for the Economy earlier this year.
Pell's appointment was accompanied by an organisational restructure which means administrative and financial managements no longer fall under the authority of one cardinal.
The Australian has moved quickly to bring in lay accounting experts and has also made the line-up of cardinals involved in financial oversight less Italian and more international.
He has characterised Vatican finances prior to his arrival as "sloppy, inefficient and open to being robbed", and earlier this month admitted that the cardinals in charge had little idea of what was going on.
"For seven or eight years I was on a committee that was supposed to be overlooking Vatican finances," he told Catholic weekly The Tablet.
"The only thing that was absolutely clear is that we didn't know what was going on."
The financial reforms initiated by Pell concern the curia, the Vatican's central administration.
Most of the most serious financial scandals that have tainted the Church's reputation in recent years have been centred on the separately run Vatican Bank, also known as the Institute for Religious Works.
The bank, which handles current accounts for curia employees and holds deposits for religious orders, has also been subjected to a clean-up operation ordered by the pope.
It remains under investigation by Italian authorities over alleged past money-laundering and Francis has not ruled out closing it down.
The most notorious episode in the Vatican bank's history came in 1982, when it became entangled in the collapse of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano in a fraud-based scandal that resulted in the bank's president, Roberto Calvi, being found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge.