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The Vatican has found hundreds of millions of euro "tucked away"

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Pope Francis: Feeling flush
Pope Francis: Feeling flush
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE VATICAN’S ACCOUNTS czar said last night that he had stumbled across hundred of millions of euros “tucked away” in various accounts, describing the windfall as a relic of the papacy’s medieval but soon-to-be reformed financial set-up.

“We have discovered that the (Vatican’s financial) situation is much healthier than it seemed,” the Australian cardinal Pell told Britain’s Catholic Herald.

Pell, tasked by Pope Francis with revamping the Vatican’s byzantine financial system, said the hidden fortune “did not appear on the balance sheet.”

No doubt mindful of past allegations of Vatican financial shenanigans, papal spokesman Federico Lombardi quickly sought to forestall any idea there was something unholy about the mystery funds.

Pell, who found the money during an audit, did not describe it as “illegal, illicit or badly administered,” Lombardi said.

The discovery “was the result of constructive cooperation between the different Vatican institutions.”

Nevertheless, Pell acknowledged that the extraordinary situation reflected the quirks of an ancient method of Vatican money management.

“Those in the Curia were following long established patterns,” Pell said. “Just as kings had allowed their regional rulers, princes and governors an almost free hand, provided they balanced their books, so too did the popes with the curial cardinals.”

The good news, he said, is that the Vatican is “not broke” and is “paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments”.

After a campaign to weed out suspect accounts at the bank, he said the Vatican was guarded against criminal infiltrations and was determined to invest donations “efficiently and honestly”.

The centuries-old institution was perceived by some as “an old noble family sliding towards bankruptcy… incompetent, extravagant and easy pickings for thieves. Already this misapprehension is dissolving,” he said.

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Separately, two former Vatican bank managers and a lawyer have had their accounts seized as part of an investigation into allegations of embezzlement, the Vatican said today.

The bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), said it had pressed charges against the trio some months ago and “the accounts held by the concerned individuals at the IOR have recently been seized.”

While the IOR would not provide details on the case “given the ongoing judicial enquiry”, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Italian media the trio were suspected of embezzling money.

Reports said they had syphoned off cash while managing the sale by the bank of 29 buildings.

- © AFP, 2014

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