* Four big outside firms looking into Vatican departments
* Vatican communications structure seen as bloated
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The Vatican has hired two big international consulting firms to improve financial accounting procedures and streamline media operations, its latest bid to clean up often murky finances and improve efficiency by cutting through red tape.
Pope Francis has already set up three commissions to advise him on what to do with the troubled Vatican bank, how to reform the administration and to address sexual abuse of children, a scandal that tainted his predecessor Benedict XVI’s incumbency.
The Vatican said on Thursday it had hired KPMG, which provides audit, tax and advisory services to companies, to “align the accounting procedures of all departments of the Holy See to meet international standards.”
Four major outside business consulting or auditing companies have now been hired by the Vatican, which in the past mostly policed itself, a practice which led to a series of scandals.
KPMG won the bid for the contract, awarded by an international commission of seven lay experts formed by the pope in July to help him overhaul the Holy See and move on from the damaging mistakes under Benedict.
The commission is tasked with drafting reforms of the Holy See’s institutions to simplify how they work, improve the management of finances and improve transparency in the purchasing of good and services.
Private documents leaked to Italian media last year by Benedict’s butler alleged corruption in the Vatican, with contracts given at inflated prices to Italian companies with connections in the Vatican.
A separate, five-member commission is advising the pope on what to do with the Vatican bank, which has been embroiled in series of scandals in past decades. Francis has not ruled out closing the bank altogether if it cannot be reformed.
The Vatican also said international management consultancy company McKinsey had been hired to come up with a plan to make its communications “more functional, efficient and modern.”
The Vatican has six distinct communications departments - a press office, television, radio, newspaper, an internet office and a communications council, which exercises an academic and policy-making role.
They have been known to not communicate or cooperate with each other and sometimes have appeared to be in competition. In the past, one department has published important information without telling the others.
The Vatican newspaper, L‘Osservatore Romano, is 150 years old, and its editor is trying to modernise it to help shed its drab and staid image.
Vatican Radio, which broadcasts in 40 languages, takes up a big chunk of the Vatican’s budget and some officials have questioned whether such a big structure is necessary in the Internet age.
Some of the languages the radio uses are holdovers from the period when it, like Radio Free Europe, was one of the few sources of independent information in the communist East bloc.
The Promontory Financial Group and Ernst and Young are already looking into other Vatican departments.