Pope Benedict Approves German to Head Troubled Vatican Bank

The Vatican was drawn into a new controversy over its bank on Friday. It has appointed a new president over the secretive institution, a man who is also chairman of a company that makes German warships.

Ernst von Freyberg was appointed by a commission of cardinals. He was given “full consent” by Pope Benedict xvi.

At a briefing at the Vatican, reporters pressed spokesman Federico Lombardi to address Von Freyberg’s chairmanship at Blohm+Voss, a Hamburg-based shipbuilder.

Lombardi defended the selection and said that he did not know if Blohm+Voss made only warships “or if they make regular ships, and whatever anyone puts on those ships does not depend on who builds them.”

The Vatican later issued a statement saying that Von Freyberg chairs a civilian branch of Blohm+Voss that builds yachts and repairs and retrofits cruise ships. The statement also acknowledged that the company is currently part of a consortium that is building four frigates for the German Navy.

The controversy is just the latest revolving around the Vatican bank, which it calls the “Institute of Religious Works.” The bank is the focus of a two-year investigation by Italian authorities who suspect it of money laundering. It has also been criticized for a lack of transparency.

This will likely be one of Pope Benedict’s last major decisions before his resignation at the end of the month, so it is worth examining. It hints at Benedict’s bold conservative influence, which will continue beyond his papacy. Expect Benedict’s successor to make similar decisions that will further integrate the Catholic Church with the German-dominated European Union. For more on this subject, read “Pope Benedict XVI Has Resigned, Now What?