Cleric in corruption probe has assets frozen

The Vatican has frozen assets belonging to a senior Italian cleric suspected of money laundering and corruption as part of a probe which may extend to other account holders at the Vatican bank.

Cleric in corruption probe has assets frozen
Nunzio Scarano was arrested last month. Photo: AFP/Guardia di Finanza

The Vatican's chief prosecutor has seized funds held at the bank by Nunzio Scarano, who was arrested last month along with a former Italian spy on suspicion of using its bank accounts to make transfers for his friends, spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement on Friday.

The probe into the cleric, a former senior accountant for the Vatican's financial administration, "was triggered by several suspicious transaction reports…and could be extended to additional individuals," he said.

The scandal-ridden bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), is itself being investigated for allegedly failing to carry out enough checks on account holders and turning a blind eye to money laundering.

The Vatican is attempting to reform its finances to get onto a "white list" of states that respect international fraud rules, and six suspicious transaction reports were filed with its Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) last year.

Pope Francis has pledged to clean up the murky institution and has set up a special investigation committee, with reforms so far including the ousting of two top managers and the creation of a "chief risk officer" position.

A US consultancy firm, Promontory Financial Group, has also been tasked with conducting an external review of the bank's rules on money laundering.

"The IOR is systematically identifying and will have zero tolerance for any activity, whether conducted by laity or clergy, that is illegal or outside the Statutes of the Institute," Lombardi said.

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Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.