That Pope Francis has shaken up and reinvigorated parts of the Catholic Church is well known, but what may be less apparent are the changes he is implementing at the Vatican bank, reforming the once perennially corrupt institution to bring it up to international banking norms.
Earlier this month, the bank, known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion, published an annual report for the first time in its 125-year history and highlighted its reforms. The bank’s new president, Ernst von Freyburg, told Vatican Radio that the bank has “reviewed our procedures for taking on clients to make sure that no money laundering can happen at the institute. We do have a new handbook, we do have new procedures, and we are also ready for inspection by third parties.”
To that end, the bank has contracted with US-based Promontory Financial Group to review all 19,000 accounts, totaling nearly $9 billion, held by the bank. This follows a 2012 evaluation by Moneyval, a European anti-money laundering organization, which praised the Vatican for “coming a long way in a short time.” According to the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, Promontory “currently has about twenty inspectors stationed inside the Vatican bank,” and Allen observes that a “new day is apparently dawning at the bank, where the old climate of trust is being leavened with a strong dose of ‘but verify.’”
The 100-page annual report includes audited financial statements, which according to Catholic News Agency, “were compiled according to International Financial Reporting Standards.” Again, bank president von Freyburg: “with the publication of our Annual Report, we are meeting our commitment to provide the transparency about our activities which the Catholic Church, our customers, the Vatican authorities, our correspondent banks and the public rightfully expect.”
At the same time, Vatican officials have asked Promontory to examine its real estate holdings group, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. The APSA, which manages the Vatican’s real estate, pays its employees, manages its stocks, and acts as purchaser and HR administrator, will open its books “to deepen the checks into the financial and management situation.” The department, like the bank, has been accused of shady dealings and a former director is under investigation for facilitating money laundering, according to Reuters.