VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis took his first major step in reforming the troubled Vatican bank on Saturday by tapping a trusted prelate to help oversee its management, in a sign he wants to know more about its activities.

Francis signed off on naming Monsignor Battista Mario Salvatore Ricca as interim prelate of the Institute for Religious Works.

It’s a key job that has been left vacant since 2011: The prelate oversees the bank’s activities, attends its board meetings and, critically, has access to all its documentation. The prelate reports to the commission of cardinals who run the bank and is currently headed by the Vatican No. 2. That gives Ricca a virtually direct line to the pope.

Ricca is currently director of the Vatican hotel where Francis lives and other Vatican-owned residential institutes for clergy. They include the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, the central Rome residence where the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio always stayed on visits to Rome and where he famously paid his bill and bid farewell to the staff the day after he was elected pope.

Technically the appointment was made by the commission of cardinals, headed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state. But the Vatican statement announcing the appointment made clear Francis had approved it, an indication that it was something Francis either initiated himself or strongly supported.

Right before resigning, Benedict XVI named German aristocrat and financier Ernst von Freyberg as IOR president, filling a vacancy that had been left open for nine months following the remarkable ouster of Italian banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi for alleged incompetence.

Von Freyberg has said the bank’s main problem is its reputation, not any operational shortcomings.

The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee, however, says otherwise. The committee, which helps member countries comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, gave the Vatican bank several poor or failing grades in its inaugural evaluation last year.

Cited were problems concerning conducting proper customer due diligence checks and reporting suspicious transactions. Vatican officials say six such transactions were flagged last year and another seven so far in 2013.

But the customer checks are only now getting underway, even though the Vatican pledged to Moneyval that they would be completed by December 2012.

The Vatican must submit a progress report to Moneyval in November.


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