Vatican interrogation request is first test of financial agreement
St. Peter's Basilica as seen on the night of Feb. 13, 2013. Stephen Driscoll/CNA.
St. Peter's Basilica as seen on the night of Feb. 13, 2013. Stephen Driscoll/CNA.
By Andrea Gagliarducci
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.- The Vatican’s judicial authorities have requested that their Italian counterparts interrogate Monsignor Nunzio Scarano about withdrawals he made from his Vatican bank account, putting a brand new agreement between the two countries to its first test.

The request to have the Italian authorities question the monsignor was made last week by Giampiero Milano, the Promoter of Justice for the Vatican Court, just days after the two countries signed an pact to exchange information related to the prevention of money laundering.

Msgr. Scarano is currently being held in an Italian jail for allegedly planning to smuggle 20 million euros ($26 million) from Switzerland to Italy aboard an Italian government airplane.

He is also being investigated by the public prosecutor in his home town of Salerno, Italy for supposedly laundering 560,000 euros ($744,000) that he took from his account at the Institute for Religious Works – the so-called Vatican bank – to pay off the mortgage of a house in Salerno.

This second case led the Vatican authorities to freeze Msgr. Scarano’s funds on July 9 and suspend him from his job in early June. The case against Msgr. Scarano, a suspended accountant for the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, first became public June 28 when he was arrested by the Italian authorities for the smuggling attempt.

According to a Vatican financial source familiar with the case, who spoke to CNA on Aug. 2 and asked for anonymity, the request to have the Italian authorities interrogate the monsignor is primarily tied to the money transfer he made to pay off the mortgage.

Msgr. Scarano reportedly pulled the money out of his Vatican account in a series of transactions that always added up to around 15,000 or 20,000 euros.

Those transactions plus others tied to the Vatican’s investigation of Msgr. Scarano’s financial activities are recorded in an 89-page dossier, a thick file that was visible, although not open for analysis, during a July 31 background briefing at the Institute's headquarters.

Markus Wieser, one of the Institute’s spokesmen, said in a July 31 conversation, “the commitment of President Ernst von Freyberg is to do away with the rumors of opacity and of illicit operations that surrounded the Institute over the years.”

What form that will take in regards to the so-called Vatican Bank was a topic that Pope Francis spoke about during his now famous July 28 in-flight press conference with journalists coming back from World Youth Day in Rio.

"In reference to that question you asked me about the IOR," Pope Francis said, using the Italian acronym for the Institute as he responded to a question from EFE's correspondent Juan de Lara, "I don’t know how the IOR will end up."

"Some say that, perhaps, it’s best that it be a bank, others that it be an aid fund, others say to close it. ... But the characteristics of the IOR ... (must be) transparent and honest. This must be so," he stated.

The recent background briefing with journalists was part of an “open door policy” that was started under Benedict XVI.

The first meeting with the media took place on June 28, 2012 when Paolo Cipriani, then general director of the Institute, met a selection of 50 journalists in the Institute’s headquarters to explain its purpose, the status quo of the investigations and the process of reform.

The Institute for Religious Works has also launched its own website as part of its transparency effort. Visitors to the site, www.ior.va, can learn about the history of the Institute, its key personnel, and read its balance sheet for 2011 and 2012.

Tags: Vatican Bank, Vatican Finances, Institute for Religious Works

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