It’s a key job that has been vacant since 2011. The prelate oversees the bank’s activities, attends its board meetings and has access to all its documentation. The prelate reports to the commission of cardinals that runs the bank and is currently headed by the Vatican’s second-highest official. That gives Ricca a near-direct line to the pope, creating a bridge between the bank’s lay managers and board members and its religious leadership.
Ricca is currently director of the Vatican hotel where Francis lives and of other Vatican-owned residential institutes for clergy.
Technically, the appointment was made by the bank’s five-member commission of cardinals, headed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state. But the Vatican statement announcing the appointment made clear that Francis had approved it, an indication that it was something Francis either initiated himself or strongly supported.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the interim nature of the appointment was a sign that Francis is still considering how to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, one of the priorities set out by the cardinals who elected him pope in March.
Before resigning, Benedict XVI named Ernst von Freyberg, a German aristocrat and financier, IOR president, filling a vacancy that had been open for nine months after the ouster of Italian banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, allegedly for 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 rules against money laundering and terrorist financing, gave the Vatican bank several poor or failing grades in its inaugural evaluation last year.
Although praising the Vatican as a whole for its progress, Moneyval said the bank’s rules for customer due diligence, wire transfers and reporting suspicious transactions were insufficient. It said the bank needed an independent supervisor and needed to conduct a thorough risk assessment to ensure that it knows its clients and the risks it faces.
Vatican officials have revealed that six suspect transactions were flagged last year and seven more so far in 2013.
But the customer checks are just getting underway, even though the Vatican had pledged to Moneyval that they would be completed by December 2012. Von Freyberg has said they will be completed by the end of July.
The Vatican is supposed to submit a progress report to Moneyval in November.
The Vatican opened itself to the Moneyval evaluation process after signing a new European Union monetary agreement in 2009. The aim is to shed the bank’s image as a secretive tax haven and improve its reputation in global financial circles after a series of scandals, including a money-laundering investigation launched by Rome prosecutors in 2010.