Pope approves changes for Vatican's financial watchdog agency

The tower of the Institute for the Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican bank, is pictured Oct. 2, 2019. Pope Francis has approved a new statute for the Vatican's financial watchdog agency to improve independence and oversight powers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis approved new changes to the Vatican's financial watchdog agency concerning its internal governance, hiring procedures and its role as a "supervisory" body.

Established in 2010 and charged with preventing and countering suspected money laundering and the financing of terrorism, the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority is now called the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority, according to a new statute approved by the pope.

The statute was published by the Vatican Dec. 5 and the changes went into effect the same day.

The new statue is part of making the authority's administration and internal governance be more transparent and in line with international standards, said the authority's president, Carmelo Barbagallo, in an interview with Vatican News Dec. 5.

It was important to add the term "supervisory" to the agency's name, he said, in order to better reflect its role in financial oversight along with its original task of "intelligence" to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The authority is charged with "prudential" regulatory and supervisory functions on institutions providing financial services, such as the Vatican bank, he said.

One important change to the authority, he said, is dividing the old office of supervision and regulation into two separate offices. The authority now has three departments: a supervision unit; the regulation and legal affairs unit; and the financial intelligence unit.

Creating a separation between the supervisory, regulatory and financial intelligence functions puts the authority more in line with international best practices, Barbagallo said.

The regulatory and legal affairs office deals with all legal issues, including regulations, he said, so "the tasks of setting the rules have been separated from those of exercising control.”

The recruitment and hiring of lay personnel will also be subjected to the Vatican's independent evaluation commission, according to the new statute.

The authority will have to go through the same commission that the other offices and departments of the Roman Curia have to go through for the recruitment and hiring of lay staff members.

Barbagallo said this change in its hiring procedure "guarantees a more extensive selection of candidates and greater control in recruitment decisions, avoiding the risk of arbitrariness."

This also "contributes to strengthening the authority's independence in the exercise of its important prerogatives.”