By: Eric J. Lyman
Italian police on Friday arrested a bishop and two other men in connection with suspicion of financial fraud connected with the Vatican’s Institute of Religious Works in what is likely the most high-profile money-laundering bust related to the Holy See.
The arrest of Bishop Nunzio Scarano, a senior Vatican bank official from Salerno, near Naples, comes just two days after Pope Francis ordered a wide-ranging probe into the internal activities of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See — best known as the Vatican’s bank — after a series of scandals.
Scarano, who was arrested along with former intelligence officer Giovanni Maria Zito and financial broker Giovanni Carinzo, has reportedly been under investigation for weeks, after his name was connected to a series of suspicious transactions at the Vatican bank.
According to investigators, Scarano paid Zito €400,000 ($520,000) to illegally transport €20 million ($26 million) in cash from Switzerland to Italy. That plot was said to involve the use of an Italian government plane.
Vatican press officials said they have no immediate comment on the developments, but Scarano had been “temporarily suspended” from his job at the Vatican bank earlier in the week.
The pontiff on Wednesday named a five-person commission to investigate the Vatican bank’s administrative structure and activities in order to “allow for a better harmonization with the universal mission of the Apostolic See,” according to a Vatican statement.
There were two Americans named to the commission: Msgr. Peter Wells, an official in the Vatican’s foreign ministry, and Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law professor and the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under former President George W. Bush.
Earlier, on June 15, Francis filled key vacancies within the Vatican bank with trusted associates, a move many saw as the start of the first significant reform initiative of his papacy.
Francis, a native of Argentina, became the first non-European pope since the early centuries of the church on March 13. Vatican experts said at the time that his status as an outsider would give him an upper hand in reforming some of the Vatican’s most entrenched institutions.