By Catholic News Agency's Vatican Observer, Andrea Gagliarducci
Possible move in Vatican finance could signal return to Italian sway
The Institute for Religious Works, or 'Vatican bank'. (File Photo/CNA).
The Institute for Religious Works, or 'Vatican bank'. (File Photo/CNA).
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.- Earlier this week reports of a potential new president of the “Vatican bank” were leaked to Italian media, suggesting the possibility of a greater Italian influence in Vatican finances.

“Italia Oggi,” a Milan-based daily specializing in politics, economics, and law, wrote Feb. 11 that Carlo Salvatori could soon be chosen as the new president of the board of directors of the Institute for Religious Works. The Italian banker is currently director of SeaChange and chairman of Lazard Italy.

The Vatican bank board is composed of five bankers and experts, and is currently chaired by Ernst von Freyberg, who undertook the position near the end of Benedict XVI’s papacy.

A source familiar with Vatican finances could not confirm that Salvatori would be appointed, but did tell CNA Feb. 12 that “there is indeed an internal discussion about the opportunities offered by an increasing ‘internationalization’ of Vatican finances, but also about the possibility of returning again to a greater ‘Italian presence’ in finances.”

The debate mirrors the difficult relations between Italy and the Holy See experienced since the Vatican underwent evaluation of its financial transparency from the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee.

With the evaluation, Holy See policy became more multilateral, and less based on privileged relations with states. That there had been privileged relations was shown by the fact that the first composition of the Authority for Financial Information, the Vatican financial watchdog, was imbalanced to Italy.

Many of the members came from Italian banks and from the Bank of Italy, and it was asked if the composition of the board was coherent with the universality of the Holy See, the employees of which are traditionally chosen at an international level. The imbalance to Italy was considered by many Vatican insiders a sign of weakness and a source of risks, rather than opportunity.

The Vatican’s anti-money laundering law was first written under the pressure of Italian authorities’ impounding of $31 million which had been transferred by the Vatican bank; the money was restored after the law’s promulgation.

Since then, the Holy See has improved its anti-money laundering law several times, most recently by an Aug. 8 motu proprio from Pope Francis.

Italy’s relations with the Vatican are marked by the Lateran Treaty, a 1929 agreement which established Vatican City as an entity independent of Italy. Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said at a recent conference on the treaty’s 1984 revisal that it was a “new, happy opportunity to re-build a texture of values” in Italian society.

The revisal, he said, “turned a new leaf from a ‘fight’ between the Church and totalitarian and authoritarian states that led to the signing” of the 1929 treaty which ensured freedom and a space for the Church under Mussolini.

Archbishop Parolin seems uninterested in giving Italy a privileged relation with the Holy See; in a Feb. 8 interview with Avvenire, he indicated that neither the Secretariat of State nor the Italian bishops’ conference has an “exclusive relationship” with Italian politics.

“They must proceed with a synergy, respecting their respective competences, as is the case in other countries of the world, through the nunciature.”

Italy does not have a specific section in the Secretariat of State, and is treated on a par with other states.

This increasing internationalization has worried the champions of a privileged relationship between the Vatican and Italy: hence the rumored appointment of an Italian as president of the Vatican bank board of directors.

According to sources, the board of directors met Feb. 12, and it is believed that the pontifical commission dealing with the body will have given Pope Francis its conclusions Feb. 13.

The group of eight cardinals may handle the issue during its next meeting, being held Feb. 17-18.

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