The new head of the Vatican’s Institute for Works of Religion, Ernst von Freyberg, says his main goal is to improve the image so that the Pope’s message remains in the spotlight.
“My dream is that our reputation is such that people don’t think of us any more, when they think about the Vatican, but that they listen to what the Pope says,” remarked von Freyberg in an exclusive May 31 interview with Vatican Radio.
The president of the so-called Vatican bank stated that contrary to some eye-catching headlines, the institute remains one of the safest places in the world for people’s money.
“During the financial crisis we were never in trouble,” he recalled.
“No government had to bail us out. We are very, very safe.”
He labeled the outfit as a “well managed, clean financial institution.”
“We can improve on all areas as can everybody else and we are trying to be as good as the comparable institutes are,” admitted von Freyberg, who was appointed to his post on Feb. 15.
The Vatican institute is not technically a bank because it does not carry out certain transactions that are commonly done by banks.
“We do not lend money, we do not make direct investments, we do not act as financial counterparts so you cannot get a swatch or a hedge from us,” he explained.
“We receive money as deposits and we then invest it in government bonds, some corporate bonds and in the inter-banking market where we deposit with other banks, for a slightly higher interest rate than we receive,” he reported.
He noted that this is done in order to be able to “give it back to our customers whenever they want it.”
The institute contributes 55 million euros to the Vatican budget, making it one of its most important economic pillars.
Von Freyberg underscored the institute earns that amount through the interest it pays to those who deposit and then the interest income the institute gains from that.
“That is our most important part of the income and that in any year would be between 50 and 70 million euros, from that you deduct our costs,” he said.
“Then we have some gains on bond prices which move up and down so you arrive at our profit,” he remarked.
According to him, it is an interest margin and “changes in values of bonds we own” from which the operating cost of roughly 25 million euros is deducted.
Another effort he is undertaking to improve the reputation of the institute is working closely with the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, a watchdog agency that began operating in April 2011to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Von Freyberg’s job also comes with an unusual perk. When he travels from Frankfurt to the Vatican three times a week, he stays in Saint Martha House, the same place where Pope Francis lives.
“A normal day starts in the most extraordinary way because I have the privilege to live in Saint Martha and I am allowed to occasionally attend Mass with the Pope,” he said.
“That itself is a privilege, to be there at seven o’clock in the morning and to listen to his short and always very poignant sermons,” he remarked.