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Pope Benedict XVI approves German lawyer to head troubled Vatican bank

Outgoing pope appoints Ernst von Freyberg as head of Vatican bank, prior to his planned Feb. 28 retirement.

Pope benedict xvi 2142013Enlarge
Pope Benedict XVI leads the Ash Wednesday service at the St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 13, 2013, in Vatican City, Vatican. Benedict's announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28 took many by surprise, but the focus has since turned to who will be his successor as pope. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Outgoing Pope Benedict XVI has appointed German lawyer and financier Ernst von Freyberg as chief of the Vatican's bank, filling a post that has been vacant since May, when the previous president of the Institute of Religious Works was fired.

In what is likely to be on of the last major acts of his papacy, the pope gave von Freyberg his personal support on Friday, according to a Vatican statement.

Freyberg is a member of the ancient Sovereign Military Order of Malta, writes the Associated Press, and has been tasked with bringing the Institute of Religious Works — as the Vatican's bank is known — into compliance with a transparency review conducted by the Council of Europe Moneyval committee.

Read more from GlobalPost: Retiring Pope Benedict XVI gives emotional farewell

He will replace Ettore Gotti Tedeschi in the role, who was removed from the post in late May, and was swiftly accused of both negligence and "increasingly eccentric behavior," according to the Guardian.

GlobalPost's senior correspondent Paul Ames said the "Vatican seems to be moving fast to clean up its financial house ahead of the conclave to find a successor to Benedict XVI."

Von Freyberg will "face the urgent task of persuading international authorities that the Vatican bank is not a haven for money launderers," Ames continued.

US and European regulators have expressed doubts about the Vatican's compliance with international transparency standards and Italian authorities last month blocked the use of credit cards in the Vatican to the widespread frustration of tourists visiting museums and stories within the tiny state.

On Tuesday, the Vatican reached an agreement with a Swiss payment company to allow the resumption of card payments.

"By providing a nomination, we can avoid seeing untrue things being said," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins in the Wall Street Journal.

"If there are problems at the [Vatican's bank] these need to be solved as soon as possible."

Pope Benedict's announcement on Feb. 11 that he planned to resign that same month shocked the world, and will render him the first pope to resign from the exalted position in nearly 600 years.

The Vatican confirmed on Feb. 14 that Pope Benedict XVI had hit his head on a trip to Mexico in 2012, although it also added that the injury did not make a major impact on his decision.

Paul Ames contributed to this report from Vatican City.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/130215/pope-benedict-xvi-approves-german-lawyer-head-troubled-vatican-b