26 Jun 2013

Pope Francis unveils inquiry to probe Vatican bank

Pope Francis unveils a commission of inquiry to examine the activities of the troubled Vatican bank in the wake of allegations of a new money-laundering scandal.

Pope Francis (pic: Reuters)

The appointment of the five-member panel, which includes four prelates and a female Harvard professor, is the boldest move yet by Pope Francis to get to grips with a bank that has embarrassed the church for decades.

The Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) as the bank is formally known, has long been tarnished by accusations that it has failed to meet international transparency standards intended to combat money laundering and tax evasion.

The Vatican said in a statement the commission would enable Francis “to know better the judicial position and the activities of the institute to allow an improved harmonization with the mission of the universal church”.

It said the commission, which is already at work, has full powers to obtain all documentation and data necessary, although the powers of existing regulators would not be affected.

US cardinals were among the most vocal in demanding reform of the Vatican and its bank in the run-up to the conclave that elected Francis pope in March.

Pope Francis has laid great emphasis on removing an image of privilege from church operations and IOR’s new president Ernst von Freyberg has begun a review of all its accounts and activities.

Money laundering investigation

Italian magistrates are investigating the bank on suspicion of money laundering, a charge the bank denies.

On Wednesday, in a further embarrassment, prosecutors in the southern Italian city of Salerno placed a senior Vatican official under investigation for alleged money-laundering. Monsignor Nunzio Scarano has been temporariy suspended from his job in one of the Vatican’s key finance offices – the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. He has denied any wrong-doing.

Papal attention

It is understood Pope Francis has been working on the commission’s creation for the last month.

He was due to attend a gala classical music concert on Saturday as guest of honour, but did not attend. A spokesman for the pontiff told the crowd of cardinals and Italian dignitaries that an “urgent commitment that cannot be postponed” would prevent Francis from attending.