Pope Francis cleans house at Vatican bank
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis made another move to clean house at the troubled Vatican bank Wednesday, naming a new roster of cardinal advisers to replace the ones who were in place during its latest brushes with scandal.
Only one cardinal from the previous commission overseeing the bank’s operations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, survived the cut.
On Wednesday, Francis named four others to round out the commission, including his hand-picked secretary of state, Cardinal-elect Pietro Parolin, and Francis’ close friend Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello.
The other members include Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto.
“It is not surprising,” said one Vatican official familiar with the bank, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has been in the works. It is a normal turnover. It is good for the working of the institution.”
Francis’ move comes a month before cardinals from around the world will come to the Vatican for a consistory to witness the formal appointment of new cardinals and discuss church affairs. Last Sunday, Francis designated his first group of new cardinals, with a majority coming from outside of Europe.
Francis has paid close attention to the bank, having named two close aides as direct liaisons between the bank and the pontiff. He also has appointed a separate special commission to scrutinize the bank’s activities.
On Feb. 16, just days after announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed the existing members of the bank’s supervisory body for another five years.
The members included Benedict’s longtime deputy and secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was widely blamed for many of the Vatican’s administrative shortcomings during Benedict’s papacy.
One of Benedict’s last acts was to appoint Ernst von Freyberg, a German industrialist, as the bank’s first non-Italian president.
Von Freyberg has focused on bringing the bank into compliance with international norms and has hired a forensic accounting firm to vet the bank’s 19,000 accounts for problems or suspicious transactions.
In December, Moneyval, a European monitoring agency, commended the Vatican for making significant efforts to comply with international laws to combat terrorism and money laundering, but added that more improvement was needed.
But the agency also criticized officials as still having inadequate controls to protect against financial crimes at the bank, and at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and financial assets.
Carlo Marroni, a journalist and expert on Vatican financial affairs, said Francis also might decide eventually to replace von Freyberg and the other members of the bank’s board of directors. The board answers to the supervisory committee appointed Wednesday.
Francis has now essentially undone Benedict’s decree, relieving Bertone and the other commission members of their jobs as he moves forward with his reform of the bank, formally known as the Institute for Religious Works.
Over the summer, Francis named a trusted friend, Monsignor Battista Ricca, to fill a vacant supervisory position and appointed an independent commission of inquiry to look into the bank’s activities and legal status.
Those decisions were taken in the days surrounding the July 1 ouster of the bank’s top two managers and the arrest of a Vatican accountant with several Vatican bank accounts on charges he plotted to smuggle $26 million into Italy from Switzerland.
The accountant, dubbed “Monsignor 500” for the types of euro notes he purportedly favored, is on trial in Rome on the smuggling charge and also is under investigation in his native Salerno, a city in southern Italy, in a money-laundering case involving his Vatican accounts.
Prior to that affair was the controversial 2012 ouster of the bank’s then-president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. The board accused Gotti Tedeschi of incompetence and failing to do his job.
And before that, in 2010, Italian police seized $31 million from an IOR account and Rome prosecutors placed the IOR’s then-president, Gotti Tedeschi, and general director Paolo Cipriani under investigation for alleged violations of anti-money laundering norms in conducting a routine transaction from a Vatican account at an Italian bank.
The money was eventually unfrozen. Gotti Tedeschi was subsequently exonerated as a suspect. Cipriani hasn’t been charged.
In 2012, under pressure from the Bank of Italy, U.S. bank JPMorgan closed its IOR accounts. And in December of 2012, again under pressure from the Bank of Italy, Deutsche Bank Italia halted its 15-year term providing electronic payment services to the Vatican, leaving the tiny city- state cash-only for months.
The five-member Cardinal’s Commission, as it is known, names the lay board of the Vatican bank and its top two general managers and makes sure they adhere to the bank’s mission to administer money for works of charity.
The New York Times contributed to this report.