VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Wednesday (June 26) set up a commission to review the activities of the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank to ensure it works in harmony with the mission of the Roman Catholic Church.
The move comes only a few days after he appointed a trusted cleric as the bank’s overseeing prelate, a position that had been vacant for years. The appointment indicates Francis’ resolve in tackling one of the most embarrassing issues left behind by Pope Benedict XVI when he resigned in February.
The Vatican Bank, formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), has a long history of secrecy and scandals. It has reportedly been involved in several shady operations in past years and has been accused of having ties to the Mafia.
Most recently, top bank officials have been put under investigation by Italian magistrates for alleged money laundering.
The new commission created by Francis will have the power to access the bank’s data and documents, trumping the secrecy that historically shrouded its operations.
The five-member commission includes among its members two cardinals and the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wants to “reform the bank to make it more pertinent to the church’s needs.”
Under Benedict, the Vatican started adopting international financial transparency standards, setting up an independent financial watchdog.
While a European monitoring authority has issued a positive review of the Vatican’s efforts, it stressed that more needed to be done, especially about the bank.
In recent weeks, Ernst von Freyberg, the bank’s president – appointed during Benedict’s pontificate – said the IOR needed to address its tarnished reputation.
Francis was elected with a clear mandate to reform the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, after years of scandals and reports of infighting and lack of internal collaboration.
Speaking at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, he stressed that in the church no one is superior to anyone else: “We are all equal in the eyes of God. But, one of you might say, ‘Mr. Pope, sir, you are not equal to us.’ But I am just like each of you. We are all equal.”