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.”
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