Pope fires board of Vatican finance watchdog

June 6, 2014, 3:12 PM UTC
Giulio Origlia/Getty Images

All you discontented shareholders of Wall St institutions–take a leaf out of the Holy Father’s book.

Pope Francis has just axed the all-male, all-Italian board of the body that oversees the Vatican’s financial activities, aiming to draw a line under the money-laundering scandals that plagued his predecessor.  It’s the latest sign of the new pontiff’s desire to clean up and open up possibly the only institution that has had more scandals than Wall St in recent years.

And as you might expect from a man who’s spent most of his first two years in the Vatican kicking over the traces, there are some surprising choices in His Holiness’ replacement team – including a counter-terrorism expert from George W. Bush’s White House who once led U.S. efforts to track down and confiscate Saddam Hussein’s illegal millions.

Juan C. Zarate, now a senior adviser at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, is one of  four people appointed Friday to the board of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF), which was set up by Pope Benedict XVI to clean up the Vatican’s financial activities after a string of scandals.

The three other new board members are, by the Holy See’s standards, a diverse bunch: they include Maria Bianca Farina, head of the Italian Postal Service’s insurance arm, and Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, the former head of Singapore’s central bank. Marc Odendall, a former banker who administers and advises philanthropic organisations, completes the line-up.

Together, they will oversee the work of Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss lawyer who has headed the AIF since 2012.

“Bruelhart wanted a board he could work with and it seems the pope has come down on his side and sent the old boy network packing,” a Vatican source told Reuters.

The AIF oversees, among other things, the operations of the Vatican’s bank, the Institute for Works of Religion, which has been at the heart of some of the most serious allegations. One of the bank’s former accountants,  Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, is currently on trial accused of plotting to help rich friends avoid millions of euros in taxes.