The Vatican Bank is busy repenting

The Catholic Church scrambles to clean up its financial act amid a widening scandal.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 2, 2013 10:59AM
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City is seen illuminated at night from Rome, Italy, on July 5, 2012 (© Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images)As scandal continues to swirl around the Vatican Bank, a top Catholic Church official recently accused the media "of trying to imitate Dan Brown," the author best known for thrillers such as "The Da Vinci Code" that paint the church in an unflattering light. The real story, though, is as good as any fictional tale.

According to Reuters, two top managers of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), recently resigned in the wake of the arrest of a high-ranking cleric, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, and two other people on charges of smuggling 20 million euros ($26.4 million) into Italy on a private jet.

Director Paolo Cipriani and his deputy Massimo Tulli decided to step down because "it was in the best interest of the institute and the Holy See," according to a statement the Vatican provided to the media.

Ernst von Freyberg, the bank's president who was appointed last February, will take over as interim director. He has vowed to make IOR, which has about 7.1 billion euros ($9.23 billion) in assets, more transparent, Bloomberg News says.

The IOR has been tainted by scandals for decades, including links to the Mafia. Under Pope Francis, the bank is trying to clean up its act, though critics say more needs to be done. The Holy Father last week named an independent commission to oversea its operations. Moneyval, a European banking regulator, had blasted the Holy See last year for "non-compliance with global financial transparency norms and gave it negative grades in seven out of 16 so-called 'core' and 'key' recommendations," according to The Telegraph.

Scarano's arrest is a huge embarrassment to the Vatican. According to transcripts of wiretapped phone conversations, the priest "controlled vast amounts of money and felt he could act with impunity because of his connections to the Vatican bank," Reuters said. The wire service quoted his attorney Silverio Sica saying wealthy friends donated money to the priest for him to build a home for the terminally ill.

The Vatican will be getting scrutiny as it tries to rebound from this scandal. And, as Reuters noted, it has agreed to report on its progress to Moneyval. Dan Brown, are you taking notes?

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jul 2, 2013 2:35PM
It's all about the money. That was the reason for the founding of the catholic church and still is to this day.
Jul 2, 2013 3:50PM
Jul 2, 2013 2:10PM
You don't change an organization as large and archaic as the Catholic Church overnight.  It is not so easy as some may think or wish that it would be.  It will take many, many steps to bring true and lasting reform.  It is refreshing to see these steps continuing to be taken by Pope Francis.  There is finally real hope for real change and improvement in the Vatican.
Jul 2, 2013 2:29PM
The Catholic Church is really in a bad way from all this screwing... pedophile priests and MAFIA banksters. What next... lead-laden rosaries or GMO host wafers? Get off your PC PC's and clean up your very dirty religion!
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