Chief heralds ‘new’ future at scandal-hit bank

After months of reform the Vatican bank has opened the door to a "transparent" and "unburdened future", the institution's chief said on Tuesday as he announced a steep fall in profits.

Chief heralds 'new' future at scandal-hit bank
A review in recent months has seen around 3,000 customer accounts closed at the Vatican bank. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

The Vatican bank said on Monday that net profits plummeted from €86.6 million in 2012 to €2.9 million last year, attributed to factors such as “extraordinary expenses”. Without such burdens the bank, officially the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), would have registered profits of around €70 million in 2013.

Ernst von Freyberg, president of the board of superintendence, said the new figures followed “painful” reforms to see the bank meet international standards.

“It is fair to say that over the past months this often painful but very necessary process has opened the door to a new, unburdened future of the IOR,” he said in a statement.

A review in recent months has seen around 3,000 customer accounts closed, the majority of them dormant but including 396 accounts which held a total of €44 million. An additional 359 accounts which did not meet new criteria are due to be closed, prompting the outflow of a further €183 million.

Von Freyberg said the review process was part of his mandate to “proceed with zero tolerance for any suspicious activity” and praised the reforms intended “to make the Institute safer and more transparent”.

Despite Von Freyberg being praised for the work he has done since joining the bank in February 2013, a report last week said he could be set to resign amid a shake-up at the institution, which has long been plagued by corruption scandals.

READ MORE: Vatican bank chief to quit amid shake-up: report

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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.