Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto is among four cardinals that Pope Francis has named to oversee the troubled Vatican bank, replacing most of the panel that the previous pontiff had appointed less than a year ago.
Formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, the Vatican bank has long been plagued by scandals. Pope Francis’s decision was announced Wednesday in a laconic one-paragraph press release that said the pontiff had appointed for five years the panel of five cardinals overseeing the Vatican bank.
The new appointees replace four of the five cardinals whom Pope Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, chose just 11 months ago.
The changes come amid other reforms that Pope Francis has ushered to modernize the Holy See’s murky financial operations.
Last year, the Vatican announced that it had hired the auditing firm KPMG and the consultancy firm McKinsey & Company to help modernize its management and accounting practices.
Moneyval, a financial watchdog agency of the Council of Europe body, criticized the Holy See in a 2012 report, saying it wasn’t complying with international financial transparency standards. Last month, Moneyval noted that progress had been made to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism but “further important issues still needed addressing.”
Cardinal Collins was not available for comment on Wednesday. News of his appointment came a day before he celebrates his 67th birthday.
However, he issued a statement saying: “I am honoured that Pope Francis has appointed me to serve as a member of the commission overseeing the Institute for the Works of Religion. While my primary role remains to serve the people of the Archdiocese of Toronto as archbishop, this new responsibility is a further way of serving the mission of the whole church.”
Neil MacCarthy, the director of communications at the Archdiocese of Toronto, said Cardinal Collins’s new responsibility will require that he travel to the Holy See occasionally. He is already a member of two Vatican administrative bodies, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
“This won’t change his day job. His main responsibility remains the Archdiocese of Toronto,” Mr. MacCarthy said.
Cardinal Collins is expected to learn more about his new duties when he attends the Feb. 22 consistory in Rome, when the 16 new cardinals named by Pope Francis, including Quebec City’s Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, will be formally elevated.
Both Cardinal Collins and another cardinal named to the bank oversight panel, Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, come from relatively rich dioceses that have had extensive dealings with financial affairs.
The other appointees are Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s new secretary of state, who will be elevated to the rank of cardinal next month, and Santos Abril y Castillo, a Spaniard who is based in Rome and is a close friend of the pope’s.
The one holdover was French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
The four who were not reconfirmed included the former secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Commentators and some church officials blamed him for lax oversight that led to a spate of scandals during Benedict’s pontificate, including the leaking of some of the pope’s personal documents by Benedict’s butler.
Cardinal Bertone has defended his record saying he was the victim of “anonymous accusations and rumour mongering.”
Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, head of another Vatican financial department that Italian magistrates suspect of financial irregularities and which the Vatican has asked an outside firm to audit, was also removed.
The pope has not ruled out closing the bank if it cannot be reformed.
The cardinals commission reviews accounts and approves strategy. It acts as a link between the pope and the board of superintendence, which is made up of five lay members from around the world.
The bank has undergone major changes since the arrival last February of its new president, Ernst Von Freyberg, a German.
His team has closed many accounts and hired an outside firm, the Promontory Financial Group, to help it meet international standards of transparency drawn up to combat money laundering.
An Italian investigation into alleged money laundering at the bank is still in progress. The bank denies the accusations.
Last July, Vatican bank director Paolo Cipriani and deputy-director Massimo Tulli resigned, three days after the arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano.
Father Scarano, who worked as a senior accountant in the department headed by Cardinal Calcagno, one of the cardinals removed and who had close contact with the bank, is currently on trial in Rome on charges of plotting to smuggle 20 million euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland.
With a report from Reuters.