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Pope, Council of Cardinals review future of Vatican Bank

Special advisory commission reviewing murky institution

18 February, 17:48
Pope, Council of Cardinals review future of Vatican Bank (ANSA) - Vatican City, February 18 - Pope Francis and his eight most senior cardinals were given an update Tuesday by an internal commission examining the troubled Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) - informally known as the Vatican bank.

The eight-member College of Cardinals is examining the troubled bank with an eye to its future, and met "in an atmosphere of considerable interest from the cardinals," who asked "probing questions, to understand the subject well," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

The cardinals, sitting as an advisory board, are considering the future direction of the Vatican bank, which has faced decades of allegations of wrongdoing, including money laundering.

Lombardi said the "mission" of the bank is also being reviewed in the context of "the problems that there may have been in the past...(and seeking) some possible guidelines for the renewal" of the bank.

No decisions have been made, but the report was "ample and detailed" and touched on its financial and economic performance as well as its social functions in the world, added Lombardi.

Pope Francis, who set up the special investigative pontifical commission last June to review the Vatican bank, has not expressed any opinion on its future, said Lombardi.

The eight cardinals, dubbed the C8, are meeting all week to discuss a number of different issues facing the Church and will end their sessions with a consistory on February 22 and 23 when 19 new cardinals will be appointed.

Cardinals and bishops with the pontifical "committee of 15" in charge of the Holy See's economic and financial affairs is also meeting.

As well, the Vatican bank's oversight committee of cardinals will later meet to elect their new president.

The pontiff last month replaced four of its five members - appointing as a new member, among others, newly instated Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to replace his predecessor Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican bank has been working with the Council of Europe's Moneyval agency to bring it in line with international standards and Vatican administrators have made significant progress, according the monitoring group of financial experts.

In a December report, the group said that it approved of the efforts made by the Vatican to bolster financial transparency within its institutions.

But it added that more work must be done.

Pope Francis has not ruled out eventually getting rid of the Vatican bank altogether if reforms fail.

Over the years, the Vatican Bank has acquired a murky image on transparency.

There have been allegations that IOR was used to launder money - most notably by 'God's Banker' Roberto Calvi, the former head of Italy's biggest private bank, whose body was found hanging under Blackfriar's Bridge in London in 1982, a suspected victim of the Sicilian Mafia.

IOR was also named in kickbacks probes stemming from the 1990 collapse of public-private chemicals colossus Enimont, part of the Clean Hands investigations that swept away Italy's old political establishment.

Restoring IOR's image has been a central priority since Francis' election one year ago.

In October, the pontifical commission passed new financial laws designed to increase transparency, surveillance and improve regulations to bring them into compliance with international standards including efforts to prevent and fight money laundering and terror financing.

Reforms have also included shutting client accounts that were not considered to be consistent with the bank's religious mission, Ernst von Freyberg, president of the Vatican bank, said in a report last year.