Skip to Content

Pope hires French banker, BBC head to revamp Vatican finance, image

Jean-Baptiste de Franssu is going to take the Vatican's bank back to its roots in an effort to end the corruption that's overshadowed it for years. Jean-Baptiste de Franssu is going to take the Vatican's bank back to its roots in an effort to end the corruption that's overshadowed it for years.
Jean-Baptiste de Franssu is going to take the Vatican's bank back to its roots in an effort to end the corruption that's overshadowed it for years. VINCENZO PINTO/AFP--Getty Images

Pope Francis has hired a French fund manager and a British former Governor of Hong Kong to revamp the operations and image of the Vatican’s bank.

The appointments are the latest development in the Pope’s campaign to root out corruption from its financial operations, after a series of scandals involving, among other things, the facilitation of tax evasion by well-connected friends of high-ranking churchmen in Italy.

Only last month, Francis had replaced the entire board of the supervisory body that oversees the Vatican’s bank and asset management operations.

At a press conference Wednesday, Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Vatican’s new Secretariat for the Economy, said the Holy See had appointed Jean-Baptiste de Franssu President of the Vatican’s bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works. De Franssu, a Frenchman, was formerly a manager with investment company Invesco and head of EFAMA, a lobby group for European mutual funds.

He replaces Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer who started the process of cleaning up IOR under Francis’ Pope Benedict XVI. (Von Freyberg is also notable for being chairman of the Blohm + Voss shipyard, builders of  the famous World War 2 battleship, the Bismarck.)

De Franssu’s tasks will include removing investment activities from the IOR to a newly-formed asset management unit, and to focus the IOR back on its original mission of payment services and financial advice for the Roman Catholic Church and its various entities and employees.

Cardinal Pell said that the IOR is making “every effort” to comply with a new anti-money laundering framework that has been put in place.

In addition, the Vatican has appointed Lord Christopher Patten, a former U.K. minister, European Commissioner and Chancellor of Oxford University, to advise the Vatican on its media strategy. Patten was also Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong before it was handed back to China in 1999, and has most recently been chairman of the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

That last position has forced Patten to face the kind of controversy that has also dogged the Vatican itself, with exposures that high-profile TV presenters engaged in serial abuse of women and minors over a period of years while at the BBC.

Lord Patten said his committee would look at how to develop the Vatican’s digital media strategy and reach an audience beyond the Catholic church’s practising believers.