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Last week, Francis announced a commission of inquiry into the bank's activities and legal status to ensure it is in "harmony" with the Catholic Church's mission. It's part of his overall effort to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, mandated by the cardinals who elected him pope in March.
The reason for concern about the IOR is well-founded: The bank has long been the source of some of the greatest scandals of the Holy See, famously implicated in a scandal over the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in the 1980s, in one of Italy's largest fraud cases.
Roberto Calvi, the head of Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 in circumstances that still remain mysterious.
Banco Ambrosiano collapsed following the disappearance of $1.3 billion in loans the bank had made to several dummy companies in Latin America. The Vatican had provided letters of credit for the loans.
While denying any wrongdoing, the Vatican bank agreed to pay $250 million to Ambrosiano's creditors.
The late Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American prelate who headed the Vatican bank at the time, was charged as an accessory to fraudulent bankruptcy in the scandal, but Italy's Constitutional Court eventually backed the Vatican in ruling that under Vatican-Italian treaties Marcinkus had immunity from Italian prosecution. Marcinkus long asserted his innocence and died in 2006.