VATICAN CITY (RNS) The new head of the Vatican Bank admitted that the scandal-scarred institution must address its tarnished reputation, even among Catholics, even as he defended recent efforts toward financial transparency.

Ernst von Freyberg, a German aristocrat and financier, was appointed to the helm of the Institute for the Works of Religion, as the bank is formally known, on Feb. 15, in one of Pope Benedict XVI’s final acts.

After keeping a low profile in the months since, he launched a charm offensive on Friday (May 31) with interviews with several international media outlets.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, von Freyberg said that restoring the bank’s good name is a fundamental part of his job. “That is the most important thing I need to do, to get this shadow away,” he said.

In recent years, the Vatican has pushed hard to shed its reputation as a suspect and secretive financial center. It set up an independent financial watchdog and sought recognition from a European overseeing authority.

But those efforts risked being overshadowed by Italian investigations into the Vatican Bank for alleged money laundering.

In the interviews, von Freyberg said the Vatican Bank doesn’t harbor any secret accounts and it is currently in the process of reviewing its 19,000 accounts.

The bank’s newly established monitoring system has already turned up seven suspicious transactions in 2013, he told Italy’s Corriere della Sera, and all those were duly reported to the Vatican financial watchdog.

But as many Catholics, and even some cardinals, have questioned if the Vatican really needs to have its own bank, he said the bank is capable of responding to the unique needs of its clients, mostly religious orders and dioceses.

“What is really unique is that we really understand the world of the church and the mission of the church,” he said on Vatican Radio.

Von Freyberg also stressed that the bank is “highly capitalized,” making it a safe haven for its customers in today’s troubled financial world. “During the financial crisis we were never in trouble. No government had to bail us out, we are very, very safe.”


Categories: Beliefs

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Alessandro Speciale

Alessandro Speciale

Alessandro Speciale has been covering the Vatican since 2007 and wrote for Religion News Service from 2011-2013. Born in Rome, he studied literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and journalism at City University, London. He has appeared as an expert on Vatican affairs on CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera English.


  1. It is obvious that Ernst Von Freyberg was hired to put a good face on the Vatican Bank. After its scandalous past involving the high secrecy of everything else at the Vatican, and after just three months on the job as a part-time president, he dares to claim that everything was just a bad rep. Von Freyberg continues Vatican-style to provide no details about any of the concerns that have been raised for years. Now, like good children, we are just supposed to take his hired word that all is well. He only succeeds in making it clear why he was chosen.

    Benedict picked a safe German for the bank just as John Paul picked as safe German for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith when he chose Josef Ratzinger way back in the 1980s and then safely arranged that he would be his successor. I suppose we can expect more of the same out of Benedict’s pick of another German to replace Levada at the CDF after the two of them decided to terrorize U.S.. nuns because they didn’t think their good service to the poor and needy was exactly in sync with the high secrecy of the ancient Vatican.

    My friends, the Inquisition never ended, and it is long overdue that the lay people of the church stand united against the outrageous and ugly clericalism that persists among the “managers” of the people of God! Now you can clearly see–if you study your church history, its sacramental history–how and why those instruments were developed to keep you under the control of that clericalism from cradle to grave.

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