Pope Francis Thursday shuffled the Vatican’s financial watchdog board, replacing the all-Italian group with more internationally diverse members. The change came following disagreements within the board over the timeline of new reforms.
The appointments also followed the announcement of Australian business man and Cardinal George Pell being named the new Secretariat of Economy, a position created by the Pope to enforce financial responsibility throughout the Vatican’s numerous offices.
Created in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, the “Financial Information Authority” or AIF, was meant to elevate the Vatican’s financial standards against practices of funding terrorism and money laundering.
René Bruelhart, the board’s director and expert on anti-money laundering, will stay on as the new appointments are expected to advance his goals. During his experience leading the regulatory Egmont Group in Europe, Bruelhart caught a splash of fame in 2003 after rebuilding Sadam Hussein’s Gulf Stream jet and offering it to Iraq’s new government.
Before the new appointments, the board members were made up of five longtime Italian, Vatican counselors. Observers of the group said arguments often surfaced between Bruelhart and the others, regarding the pace of changes he expected.
The reshuffled board members who will join Pope Francis come from Singapore, Italy, Switzerland and the US, including Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard Law School lecturer and adviser to the school’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. Zarate also served under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009 as deputy National Security Adviser, developing anti-terrorism programs.
Prior to his work on the Bush administration, Zarate served as a US Treasury Department official fighting terrorist funding and money crimes. He is joined by three new members, each from different nations, in a design Pope Francis created to diversify the board.
The Financial Information Board will also welcome Maria Bianca Farina, an insurance executive and member of the federation of Italian Banks. Farina is also an active member of “Save the Children,” an international organization that promotes the rights of young people.
Joseph Yuvaraj, a Singapore airline executive, also accepted the appointment from Pope Francis. Yuvari brings financial experience from his time serving as the monetary authority for Singapore’s finance ministry.
The last new face of the board will be Marc Odendall, a former investment banker for both JPMorgan Chase and Merrill Lynch. Odendall also served as the head of Credit Suisse until 2001, a European technology group that advises financial decisions of companies.
Pope Francis has promised the new board members will promote “honesty and transparency,” during a press conference after his return from the Middle East. The effort of the pontiff is meant, in part, to absolve the Vatican of recent financial scandals.
This includes the recent accusation against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who allegedly used his office to push nearly $20 million of the church’s bank loans into a friend’s film company, all of which was reportedly lost.
Speaking of the case, Pope Francis said, “It’s not clear…[It] could be true but [right now] nothing is definitive.” The pontiff has created a name for himself shuffling the policies and offices of the Vatican, and his move to bring in four replacements to the financial board seems just the beginning of bold changes in the Catholic Church.
By Erin P. Friar