(Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi)
Pope Francis has established a new Pontifical Commission that will examine the Vatican's financial institution, amid concerns of new problems surrounding the Roman Catholic Church's bank.
The Vatican leader explained that the Commission will consist of at least five members, who will be charged with gathering accurate information on the legal position and various activities of the Institute for Religious Works, also known as IOR.
"The Commission is to collect the documents, data, and information necessary to the performance of its official institutional duties," the pontiff announced on Wednesday, according to the Vatican Radio.
"Workplace confidentiality and other restrictions established by the juridical system shall not inhibit or limit the Commission's access to documents, data, or information, except as subject to the norms that protect the autonomy and independence of the Authorities that are engaged in the supervision and regulation of the Institute, which shall remain in force," he added.
The Associated Press reported that Pope Francis' announcement came following a new money-laundering probe surrounding the Vatican bank, which was founded in 1942 by Pope Pius XII, raising further questions about the nature of the financial institution which manages the pensions of thousands of the Vatican's employees. BBC News added that the bank has 114 employees and $7.1 billion in assets.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, confirmed on Wednesday that Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior Vatican official, has been placed under investigation for alleged money-laundering by prosecutors in the southern city of Salerno. Scarano, who has denied any wrong doing, has also been temporarily suspended from his position at the Vatican at the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
Last year, leaked documents revealed significant levels of dysfunction and allegations of corruption that plagued the Vatican's bank, leading a number of cardinals to ask for a wholesale reform to the bureaucracy.
The new Commission will now report directly to Pope Francis with information and recommendations about the bank, though no timeframe has been given for when it is expected to complete its work.
The Council of Europe's Moneyval committee is expecting a progress report from the Vatican in November that will explain the steps it has taken to meet the international financial transparency standards. The Roman Catholic Church passed the Council's first test last summer, but received bad grades for its bank and its financial oversight agency.
AP noted that some in the Catholic Church have questioned whether the Vatican even needs a financial institution such as the IOR, and whether its activities are in line with church teachings.