With controversy already surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's surprise retirement announcement from earlier this week, another scandal is brewing in Vatican City. Vatican officials have long maintained that no church money goes to funding war, but today they scrambled to address concerns over their newly appointed bank president, who has business ties to a warship builder.
The pope approved German lawyer Ernst von Freyberg to head the Vatican bank (officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion) today, according to a Reuters report. The appointment could be Benedict's last major decision before he retires at the end of the month, and Catholics are counting on von Freyberg to rehabilitate the tarnished image of a bank beset by last year's money laundering scandals. The bank has been without a president since Ettore Gotti Tedeschi's ouster in May 2012.
Freyberg's appointment appeared to running smoothly, with Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi playing up his aristocratic connections with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an ancient European chivalric organization. But Rev. Lombardi appeared taken aback by a journalist's question about von Freyberg's position as a chairman with Blohm + Voss, a company involved in military ship construction. AP's Nicole Winfield summarizes his response:
The Rev. Federico Lombardi demurred and defended the selection. He later issued a statement saying von Freyberg chairs a civilian branch of Blohm + Voss, which repairs and transforms cruise ships and builds yachts — but that the company is currently part of a consortium that is building four frigates for the German navy.
A Blohm + Voss spokesperson in Hamburg, Germany told Winfield that von Freyberg's position oversees construction of non-military civilian ships, saying, "The focus of the business is for yachts, and on the repair side for cruise ships or the offshore oil and gas industry." But Blohm + Voss has in the recent past built frigates for the German Defense Ministry. Based on Rev. Lombardi's fumbling explanation of von Freyberg's business connections, it's unclear whether or not church officials were prepared to explain these ties. As we've come to realize throughout this past week, they're very good at shielding the Vatican's inner workings from the press.