SINCE the beginning of the new year, tourists in Rome who want to visit the Sistine Chapel and see the papal art collections have had to put up with some unholy complications. At the end of a tedious hike from Saint Peter's square and often lengthy queuing alongside the Vatican's walls, they are being told that they cannot pay with credit or debit cards. Those without €16 ($21) in cash for an adult ticket have to walk ten minutes to the nearest bank with an ATM. (Cash dispensers in Vatican City are, incidentally, unique in providing the option of instructions in Latin.)
The refusal is the result not of a papal edict banning electronic payments, but of a decision by Italy’s central bank, which doubles as the country’s banking regulator. Payment services in Vatican City have been provided by the Italian arm of Deutsche Bank since 1997, but it did so with out the necessary authorisation. So the Bank of Italy told it to stop processing the payments. It even refused Deutsche’s request for a moratorium.
The reason for central bank's tough stance is that it has to comply with the European Union’s banking and anti-money-laundering law. This law permits EU banks to operate in non-EU countries only if these have adequate regulatory frameworks and supervisory controls in place. Brussels keeps a list of countries that are considered to satisfy requirements, and the Vatican is not on it.
In July Moneyval, an international body that assesses anti-money-laundering systems, decided that the Vatican's was not up to snuff—the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), the Vatican's bank, has yet to clean up its reputation.
The Vatican Bank isn't the Church's worst scandal--obviously, the plague of ephebophile priests still stands as #1--but it is a long running embarassment that should have been fixed ages ago. The failure to clean things up leads one to inevitably suspect that high-ranking Vatican officials are implicated in the "clandestine monetary transactions ... by the Church, but allegedly also by the mafia as well as corrupt politicians and companies" run through the bank.
At this point, the best solution would be to shut down the current bank and start over with entirely new management, state of the art transparency, and independent lay supervision or oversight.