His criticism came in the form of a video message delivered on Tuesday at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In his message addressed to the Global Institute of Church Management, a U.S.-based nonprofit, the cardinal explains why the Church's spiritual mission is no excuse for bad financial management.
"Undoubtedly, money is one of God's gifts, [but] it is also a source of temptation," he said. "To say that the Church is not a business provides no justification for us to be inefficient, much less for us to be corrupt."
Pell is not only the founding patron of the Institute, but also in 2014 he was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as the first head of the Prefecture for the Economy in the Vatican. He was charged with overseeing and reforming Vatican finances before legal charges were brought against him in Australia.
When Pell went to Rome in 2014 he was surprised to hear what St. Teresa of Calcutta had then said about the moral climate in the Eternal City.
"I remember being startled when I learned, soon after I came to Rome, that Mother Teresa — St. Teresa of Calcutta — had said that for the clergy there are two great challenges: one touches on sexuality and another touched on money," Pell recalled. "And she thought that the danger from money was greater and stronger than that from errant sexuality."
It made Pell think.
"Our Lord himself has a lot to say about riches," he said. "He was very clear on the subject. Once again, I remember being disconcerted. It may have been a decade or so ago when I read that our Lord condemned the love of riches more than he condemned hypocrisy."
"It is salutary to remember that the only group to whom Our Lord took the whip were the money changers, the traders in the temple," the cardinal continued.
Pell said he recognizes, as did Jesus, how dangerous to the soul money can be. His time in confinement allowed him time to ponder and reflect on the matter.
"Money is a tainted thing. I thoroughly enjoyed my work with money — it is quite fascinating — but it needs to be controlled and managed," he warned. Pell went on to say that the Church is supernatural, but not purely spiritual. The Incarnation is the root and essence of the Church, and all Her members, while being spiritual persons, are also bodily, earthly creatures.
"The Church is not a business," Pell said. "The Church is supernatural ... but we believe in the Incarnation, that God sent his only Son to come and live with us. So we bring the presence of Christ and of God into our communities and we have to use money and methodology to do this."
The cardinal praised the work of the Institute and encouraged those charged with management roles in the Church to hone their practical skills and foster discipline and virtue.
"Basically, we believe that grace works through nature," he said. "It's one thing to have a spiritual vision, it's another thing to have a plan or a project. Of course, to implement those things, you need managerial skill, human capacity, which is trained and shaped for good and godly purposes."
Pell believes that to serve people, a plan and prudence are needed.
"We have to be able to put our vision [inspired by God] into action," he said. "This means that we have to be able to implement our service to people."
While Pell was head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, he was instrumental in starting up the Global Institute of Church Management on the behalf of the Holy See. He was also an original member of the Council of Cardinal Advisors that assists the pope in reforming the Roman Curia. His term subsequently expired while he was facing trial in Australia and was never renewed.
A book on Pell's reflections while incarcerated is expected next spring.