The bank and its managers have been a recurring embarrassment for the Vatican for decades, with major scandals erupting in the 1970s and 1980s and a sensational arrest this summer amid a lengthy investigation into money laundering at the bank.
A priest-accountant at the bank, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, was arrested in June in an alleged plot to bring 20 million euros into Italy from Switzerland without declaring it at customs. He is one of at least three Institute officials currently being investigated by Italian prosecutors for money laundering.
Matters have reached the point where Francis, declaring that "St. Paul didn't have a bank account," has hinted that he might dissolve the bank completely if he can't find a way to clean it up.
To that end, he created a commission of inquiry with wide-ranging authority, and named a trusted prelate, Battista Ricca, to monitor the bank's operations. Ricca was almost immediately targeted with gay slurs in an apparent attempt to undermine his credibility — an attack that may have had a role in the pope's famous line about gay priests, "Who am I to judge?"
Shutting the bank, if it comes to that, may be an extreme measure, but Francis appears to recognize the inherent fallacy of such a major institution of faith and morality sitting atop a foundation of greed and corruption. Not merely the church faithful, but the world, expects better of the Vatican.