Vatican bank admits widows are victims of crackdown
Dozens and perhaps hundreds of widows and Vatican pensioners recently came in for a rude surprise: the Vatican bank told them they had to close their accounts or risk losing access to their money – all in the name of Pope Francis' reform efforts.
The bank now says it was all a "technical error" and that the widows and pensioners are being kept on as clients. That reversal came despite the bank's highly-publicised plan to close so-called "lay accounts" as it tries to mend relations with Italian authorities who have suspected that Italians were using the bank as a tax haven.
It's all come as a major embarrassment as the church attempts to clean up its image over claims of corruption.
"In some cases old ladies got nasty letters," Max Hohenberg, spokesman for the Institute for Religious Works, said. "The fact that a few dozen people were categorised in the wrong way and hence got a letter which was incorrect is a mistake which we have apologised for."
The news came on the same day that Pope Francis replaced a cardinal who played a senior role in Vatican finances for more than a decade, in his latest move to clear out the old financial guard associated with his predecessor.
The Vatican said the Pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Atillio Nicora as president of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority, its internal regulatory watchdog.
Cardinal Nicora (76) held high-level roles in Vatican finances since 2002. He was replaced by Bishop Giorgio Corbellini (66) who has a track record of reform.
The move, which follows the replacement of four cardinals connected to the Vatican bank on January 15, came as Francis is approaching the first anniversary of a pontificate marked by austerity and sobriety.
The bank's board issued new guidelines for who could have an account in July as part of efforts to end decades of scandal that had tarnished the Holy See's reputation – and were in part responsible for bringing the reform-minded Francis into the papacy.
With yesterday's move, the Pope has made a nearly total break with the clerical financial establishment he inherited from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who resigned last year.