Beneath: old stone tower in Vatican City where the Vatican Bank is located
As the throngs in St Peter's Square waited for puffs of "fumo bianco" to drift skyward from a copper flue, signaling the choice of yet another elderly white celibate to head the Church of Rome, many of us wondered what the excitement was about. Why the extraordinary media coverage? After all this is a conservative RC leadership that has shown itself to be a bulwark of reaction, resistant to progressive change - a church that is still tainted by the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up.
The ascension of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the throne of St Peter, has been accompanied by high praise from some Catholics. We are told he is "a humble man"... "a man of the people"... yet he is pontiff of an ecclesiastical empire that is no way suggestive of humility. Vatican insider culture - a mystery to most - is a world-onto-itself, remote and rooted in a tradition that is increasingly at odds with the values of the contemporary society it claims to serve.
The Vatican Bank, with a name reminiscent of a mission charity - the Institute of Religious Works (IOR) - is so secretive in its dealings, accounts have been inaccessible to international regulators. An investigation by Italian state prosecutors fueled accusations of money laundering and other illegal activities. Mafia money has reportedly been recycled through the IOR. Despite changes undertaken by Pope Benedict, there are large questions about whether or not these measures have been sufficiently far reaching.
The video Vatican Inc. - part of Al-Jazeera's People and Power series - investigates allegations of shady practices involving the Vatican Bank. A viewing leaves you with little doubt that the deeply entrenched problems facing the Catholic Church will not be easily solved, in large part because they are systemic, rooted in the organizational fabric of an institution that is in need of a lot more in the way of reform than this new Pope is likely to deliver.
Take a look also at this Guardian article - How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini's millions.