THE VATICAN is facing embarrassment after appointing the German chairman of a company that makes warships as the new head of its bank.
Filling the vacant post was one of the last major acts of Benedict XVI's papacy but there was dismay when it was revealed to be Ernst von Freyberg, the chairman of a Hamburg shipyard that makes frigates and destroyers.
Worse from a public relations perspective, his company, Blohm + Voss Group, was a major producer of battleships and U-boats for Hitler's regime.
On the eve of World War Two the firm produced the Bismarck, the battleship that sank HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, but which was eventually sunk by the British fleet in May 1941. The shipyard also built a state yacht for Hitler and aircraft for the Luftwaffe.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Mr von Freyberg was a committed Roman Catholic, a member of the Knights of St John of Malta chivalric order that was founded during the Crusades, and had been chosen from among 40 candidates.
He initially claimed that Blohm + Voss was involved only in civil engineering projects, but later released a statement acknowledging that the company made warships, and was currently building four frigates for the German navy.
The Vatican bank has been leaderless since its former head, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was unceremoniously sacked last May, for reasons which are still murky. (© Daily Telegraph, London)