Pope Francis is launching a commission to investigate the Vatican Bank. The financial institution has been plagued with scandals during its 71-year history. Its usefulness has been openly questioned by the new pontiff.
The Holy See announced Wednesday that the Institute of Religious Works (IOR) will be the target of an investigation overseen by the pope. Four prelates and Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former ambassador to the Holy See, are to have top-level access to all documentation when they create their report for the pontiff.
The pope said he was establishing the commission because he "wants to know better the legal position and the activities of the institute so that they can be better harmonized with the mission of the Universal Church and of the Apostolic Seat."
The commission was established with a personal decree known as "chirografo," which orders the commission to give its findings and supporting documents directly to the head of the Roman Catholic Church. No deadline has been given for the report.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the IOR was not being put under "special administration." It will remain under the control of its current administrators and continue to be overseen by existing regulators while the commission conducts its investigations.
Francis has questioned the worthiness of the bank and has spoken against the cult of money in the Vatican, calling for a "poor church."
The bank has been trying to clean up its reputation after a series of scandals, most notably in 1982 when it was embroiled in the bankrupty of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano, of which the Holy See was the main shareholder. Banco Ambrosiano was accused of laundering money for the Sicilian mafia. Its chairman, Roberto Calvi, was found hanging from London's Blackfriars Bridge in a suspected mafia murder.
In 2010, Rome magistrates froze 23 million euros ($30 million) held by the IOR in an Italian bank as part of a money laundering investigation. The IOR said it was transferring money between Italian and German accounts. The money was released in 2011 but the investigation is ongoing.
The IOR has assets of 5.5 billion euros under management and profits of 86.6 million euros, which are used to support Catholic endeavors around the world. It does not lend money.
dr/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)