- (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Medichini/Pool)
Pope Francis made a surprising move Thursday when he ousted all five Italian members of the Vatican's financial watchdog agency, replacing them with four new, international board members.
The pope reportedly made the move after internal conflict continued among old board members of the Holy See's Financial Information Authority [FIA]. The five former board members, all male Italians, reportedly clashed with Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss lawyer who is the head of the FIA and wanted to work with more international professionals experienced in anti-money laundering work.
"Bruelhart wanted a board he could work with and it seems the pope has come down on his side and sent the old boy network packing," a Vatican source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
According to the Associated Press, the previous board had complained that Bruelhart had kept them in the dark about FIA-related business since he took charge in 2012. New requirements were approved in November that required board members to have professional experience in law and finance and to not have a conflict of interest with any other branches of Vatican business, which was the case with one of the former board members.
The new members of the FIA board include Marc Odendall from Switzerland, Juan C. Zarate from the U.S., Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay from Singapore, and Maria Bianca Farina from Italy.
Odendall has experience with philanthropic organizations, while Zarate worked at a think tank in Washington, D.C. and was a former advisor to President George. W. Bush. Pillay worked as the senior financial advisor to Singapore's president and Farina oversees two major insurance companies in Italy.
As The Independent reports, the FIA was created in 2010 to combat money laundering and establish the Vatican as financially credible on a global scale. Francis has focused even more on the agency since he was elected last year, and Bruelhart has been commended by international groups on his various reforms.
This most recent move comes after Pope Francis announced in February that he would be conducting a sweeping overhaul of the Vatican's bureaucracy, the first in 25 years. According to NPR, the Vatican said at the time of its announcement that the purpose of the overhaul was to "simplify and consolidate existing management structures, improve oversight, internal controls and transparency and provide more support for the Vatican's works for the poor."