The Vatican Bank, known formally as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), will begin making public disclosures of its financial accounts by the end of the year, said its new president on Wednesday, lifting the shroud from the world’s most secretive financial institution, which was recently embroiled in a money-laundering scandal.
Ernst von Freyberg, who was appointed in February to replace Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said the bank would launch a brand new website to publish annual reports, while vowing to make changes at the institution in order to meet international standards on money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.
Though the website will not offer online banking and the annual report will not list clients, it will explain what the institute is, what it holds and what it does, according to Greg Burke, the media adviser for the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Vatican Radio said that Freyberg had announced the changes to his staff on Monday and has hired an auditing firm to ensure full impartiality.
The IOR, formally established in 1942, has been involved in several controversies since its inception. Apart from alleged mafia links during its early years, the bank has also undergone close scrutiny when the chairman of Italy's second largest private bank, Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi – a close associate of the IOR and nickname “God’s Banker” - was found hanging from London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.
In 2010, the Vatican Bank was again in the spotlight when Italian investigators froze 23 million euros ($33 million) of their funds in Italian banks on allegations of money laundering.
Last year, the money laundering allegations came to a head after the US State Department officially added the Vatican to its list of money-laundering centres worldwide, while Moneyval, an anti-money laundering monitoring group of the Council of Europe, said that the bank had satisfied only nine out of 16 tests relating to transparency.
In May 2012, then Bank president Tedeschi, was ousted in a no confidence vote by the institute's board of supervisors; amid the "VatiLeaks" scandal and other highly published allegations.
According to Reuters, the new head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, had even considered shutting down the financial institution, or at least enacting a major restructuring, when he was elected in March.
Earlier this month, in another move towards transparency, the Vatican's Financial Information Authority signed a memo of understanding with FinCen, the U.S. agency that tracks suspicious financial transactions. A Vatican official told Reuters that the IOR will also a progress report by the month on Moneyval recommendations to improve transparency at the bank.