NEW YORK – In yet another dramatic attempt to introduce financial discipline and order to the Vatican, Pope Francis replaced on Wednesday four of the five cardinals overseeing the Vatican Bank.

At the same time, the Vatican refused to dismiss persistent rumors Francis may simply decide to close the Vatican Bank altogether.

The four cardinals on the five-member Commission of Cardinals Overseeing the Institute for the Works of Religion, or IOR, the formal title of the Vatican Bank, were removed only 11 months into their five-year terms as commissioners, having been appointed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned as pope last February.

Most prominent of the four dismissed cardinals was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who served as Vatican secretary of state, arguably the most powerful Vatican office next to the pope, during the papacy of his close friend Benedict.

Benedict steadfastly supported Bertone through a series of crises that called into question Bertone’s integrity and honesty. The crises included a money-laundering scandal involving the Vatican Bank that resulted in the sacking of the bank’s head, Gotti Tedeschi, a highly respected Italian economist and banker. Another scandal centered on Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, who was criminally prosecuted for confiscating and photocopying more than 1,000 pages of sensitive Vatican documents over six years that he released to an Italian journalist for publication.

As WND reported in August, Francis surprised veteran Vatican observers by deciding to fire Bertone as Vatican secretary of state, replacing him with Venezuelan Archbishop Pietro Parolin, a 58 year-old prelate who has worked in Nigeria and Mexico for the Vatican office of secretary of state under Bertone.

Wednesday, Parolin, who is expected to be elevated to the rank of cardinal next month, was one of the four new Vatican Bank commissioners appointed by Francis to take Bertone’s place.

Also replaced was Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the current president of the Administration of the Patrimony of Apostolic See, another Vatican financial entity submitted to independent outside audit after questions of financial mismanagement were raised, as well as Cardinal Pedro Scherer of Sao Paolo and Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India.

Added to the commission along with Parolin were Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Major in Rome, Cardinal Thomas Collin of Toronto and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.

The only cardinal to remain on the commission is Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious dialogue.

Will Francis close the Vatican Bank?

Reuters reported Francis has not ruled out closing the Vatican Bank, a possibility WND reported Dec. 4, 2013.

On Nov. 28, 2013, Francis appointed his private secretary, Alfred Xuereb, a prelate from Malta, as supervisor over the activities of the Vatican Bank. His assignment was to oversee the activity of the special investigative pontifical commission established in June 2013 to study Vatican Bank reform. He also was to oversee the activity of a second pontifical commission Francis organized in July 2013 to study the organization of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See.

Two days later, the Vatican Bank announced it had appointed Rolando Marranci, a 60-year-old long-time outside consultant to the Vatican, to be the general-director of the Vatican Bank. His assignment is to take charge of operations as the Vatican Bank seeks to implement a series of expected reforms.

In December 2013, Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s monitor of anti-money laundering activities responsible for countering financial terrorism, released an evaluation of the Vatican Bank in which it concluded: “Further important measures still need addressing in order to demonstrate that a fully-effective regime has been instated [at the Holy See], particularly in respect of supervision of the financial institutions.”

Yet, despite stating his intentions clearly and putting in place a new, more trusted management team, Francis has no assurance that his efforts to reform the Vatican Bank will be successful.

Founded in 1942 as the Institute for the Works of Religion, the Vatican Bank is one of the most secretive banks in the world, operating with 114 employees and more than $7 billion in assets.

Traditionally, the Vatican Bank has refused to cooperate with Italian banking authorities and international monetary authorities on the basis that the Vatican is a sovereign state that is not subject to the control of governmental authorities outside the Vatican.

Bertone eased out

Cardinal Bertone, who turned 79 in December, had a long history with Cardinal Ratzinger before Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

From 1995 to 2002, Ratzinger worked with Bertone as his No. 2 at the influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican.

A few months after he was elected pope, Benedictine asked Bertone to take up the position of Vatican secretary of state.

In January 2010, when Bertone reached 75, the age of retirement for Curia cardinals and presented a letter of resignation to the pope, Benedict was adamant he needed Bertone to stay on as Vatican head of state because he wanted to maintain “their precious collaboration,” as reported by Andrea Tornielli in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Benedict XVI steadfastly supported Bertone through the money-laundering and butler scandals.

In their role of directing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinals Ratzinger and Bertone released for the first time to the public the Third Secret of Fatima at a press conference June 26, 2000.

In 2007, Bertone published a book, “The Last Secret of Fatima,” with a foreword authored by Benedict, defending the publicly released text of the Third Secret as the entire secret, arguing that in publishing the text, the Catholic Church had withheld nothing.

The Third Secret is a highly controversial apocalyptic prophecy many believe forecasts an assassination on a future pope that is occasioned by moral corruption within the church and a lack of faith among the clergy that threatens the very survival of the Roman Catholic Church. The Third Secret was communicated by the Virgin Mary to three young Portuguese shepherds in a series of visions starting May 13, 1917.

Pope John Paul II believed Our Lady of Fatima intervened to save his life in the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima.

Recently, the controversy over the Third Secret resurfaced when Italian journalist and television personality Antonio Socci and American attorney Christopher Ferrara began publishing their claim the Vatican had refused to make public a second part of the Third Secret that contained the exact words of the Virgin as revealed to the children of Fatima.

In his 2006 bestselling book, “The Fourth Secret of Fatima,” Socci contended a Fatima text intentionally kept secret by the Vatican predicts catastrophes for the Catholic Church and the world that include End Days punishment by God, leading to Jesus Christ returning to earth for Judgment Day.

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