Created by Pope Pius XII and Bernardino Nogara on June 27, 1942, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), commonly known as the Vatican Bank, is located within the Bastion of Nicholas V, a round tower that had been constructed in 1452 to ward off the threat of a Saracen invasion. The bank remains a sovereign financial agency within a sovereign state. It is an entity unto itself, without corporate or ecclesiastical ties to any other agency of the Holy See. As such, it cannot be compelled to redress wrongs—not even the most egregious violations of international law. Nor can it be forced to release the source of any deposit. The bank resides under the direct jurisdiction of the pope. He owns it; he controls it. Swiss guards are stationed to guard the entrance to the bank, and the hermetically sealed bronze doors open only to select members of the Roman Curia—the governing body of the entire Roman Catholic Church.
Nogara, who became the first president of the IOR, initiated a process of destroying all records of the bank’s transactions, including deposits and investments, on a regular basis, so that its operations remain free and clear of public and private scrutiny. Anyone seeking information regarding the dealings of the bank, even its corporate organization, discovers little more than empty file folders within the Vatican archives. The trails of paper flow among three separate and distinct boards of directors. One board consists of high-ranking cardinals, the second of international bankers, and the third of Vatican financial officials. But even these records cannot be subpoenaed for inspection. They remain confidential documents of the sovereign state that can only be examined only by special permission from the pope.
Of course, the Holy See dutifully publishes financial reports on a yearly basis. The reports, displaying gains and losses, appear to be exhaustive. They contain meticulous records of the incomes and expenditures of every agency within the Holy See—except the IOR.
The name of this agency never appears on any balance sheet. From all published reports, this ecclesiastical entity is nonexistent and the Roman Catholic Church survives solely as a hand-to-mouth institution.
Investigators following the paper trail inevitably come to a dead end. All internal documents and external reports contain statements exempting the Vatican Bank, or IOR, from any ruling or standard of protocol. They are punctuated by such phrases as “always leaving intact the special character of the IOR,” “not including the IOR,” or “with full respect for the juridical status of the IOR.”
Because of its clandestine workings, millions can be deposited into the IOR on a continuous basis and channeled into numbered Swiss bank accounts without the possibility of detection. It was the perfect place for the CIA and the Sicilian Mafia to launder their ill-gotten gains of the narcotics trade and for the Roman Church to fund its political mission. And, according to Moneyval (the anti-money-laundering committee of the Council of Europe), it remains one of the world’s leading laundries for dirty cash under Pope Francis. (more...)
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