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Vatican gets mixed review for its efforts to fight financial corruption

A report by the European agency that combats money laundering says the Vatican needs to take further steps to address internal corruption and improve the institution’s judicial system.

A view of St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City and Rome from the top of Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Sandexx/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money-laundering unit, published a long-awaited report on Wednesday (June 9), giving the Vatican and Holy See good enough marks for compliance with international anti-corruption laws for Catholic Church officials to claim success in the push for greater financial transparency.

“The Holy See welcomes the Moneyval Report published today and the invitation to continue on the path already undertaken,” the Vatican said in a statement, while promising to renew “its commitment to continue working towards full compliance with the best international parameters.”

But the 200-page report, which rated the Vatican’s risk as “medium low,” also notes that Moneyval’s concerns have moved from the possibility of outsiders using the Vatican’s financial institutions to move large sums of money to the potential for inside figures to take part in money laundering schemes.

While Vatican authorities deem the risk of corruption of church officials to be low, the report said, Moneyval’s assessment team “disagrees with this conclusion and is of the view that risks presented by insiders are important.”

Moneyval, created in 1997 at the time Europe countries went to a common currency, sets standards to combat money laundering and improve financial transparency in over 200 countries.

The past two years have brought renewed attention to the long-troubled Vatican finances, as the Vatican secretary of state’s 2014 investment in a luxury real estate property in central London raised questions about the involvement of an Italian businessman who has since been accused of defrauding the Vatican of roughly $22 million.

The investment eventually led to the arrest and suspension of five Vatican employees, and in September 2020, Pope Francis stripped Cardinal Angelo Becciu of his cardinal rights and responsibilities, reportedly due to financial mismanagement.

The Moneyval report revealed that suspects in the London deal are expected to be brought to trial this summer. 

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Moneyval said the scandal is “a red flag” that suggests midlevel and senior figures inside the Vatican could abuse the system “for personal or other benefits.” While the Moneyval team praised the new legislation enacted by the Vatican and Holy See to address corruption issues, the team said that its evaluation cannot be complete unless the risk posed by Vatican “insiders” is fully assessed.

The Moneyval team “remains concerned that the Vatican’s Office of the Promoter of Justice is still insufficiently resourced to handle simultaneously several complex economic and financial cases in a timely way,” the report states.

In March, a British judge said court filings by the Promoter of Justice offices in the London real estate case were riddled with “non-disclosures and misrepresentations,” suggesting that the Vatican’s judicial sector still has a ways to go to adapt to international standards. 

The report criticized the October 2019 raids on the offices of ASIF, the Vatican’s financial oversight agency, that exposed confidential information.  

But Moneyval praised a 2018 legislative reform that allowed the Vatican to seize or freeze financial assets derived from money laundering, both domestically and abroad. The Vatican and Holy See cooperated with foreign governments such as Italy and Switzerland to monitor money laundering schemes, the report noted, finding “no particular obstacles in this area.” 

Moneyval’s report amounts to a positive review of the church’s efforts, giving ASIF President Carmelo Barbagallo an opportunity to compare the Vatican’s Moneyval rating to those the agency gave for over 100 countries in the last round of evaluation: “The ratings given to the Vatican jurisdiction are among the best, better than many countries that are economically advanced and much larger in size,” said Barbagallo in a document published by the Vatican.

“This report acknowledges what has been built up over the years, the fruit of great teamwork,” he said.

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