Taking its medicine does the Vatican some good

“Be careful what you wish for,” as the saying goes, “because you will surely get it.” In light of a couple of recent Vatican stories, the corollary also seems to apply: Be careful what you try to avoid, because it might actually be good for you.

A stringent European money laundering exam in July and a federal court ruling in Oregon this week both make the point.

Earlier this year, the Vatican faced secular scrutiny of its financial operations for the first time with a review by Moneyval, Europe’s anti-money-laundering agency. The Vatican submitted voluntarily, a somewhat surprising choice given its long history of fighting off such perceived incursions on its autonomy tooth and nail. The truth, however, is it didn’t have much choice. If the Vatican is perceived as a suspect financial player, it risks higher transaction costs and being shut out of important markets.

July’s verdict was a mixed bag, raising questions such as whether regulation of the Vatican Bank is sufficiently strong. Yet on the whole, Moneyval concluded the Vatican “has come a long way in a very short period of time” toward transparency, and “there is no empirical evidence of corruption.”

Those findings undercut conspiracy theories about Vatican finances, and, to some extent, they also offset perceptions of Benedict XVI’s papacy as an administrative train wreck.

Taking its medicine, in other words, did the Vatican some good.

Something similar happened Monday, with a ruling in a federal district court in Oregon on a sex abuse lawsuit. In a nutshell, the judge held that the Vatican is not the “employer” of Catholic priests and dismissed it from the case.

Judge Michael Mosman compared policies for priests set in Rome to the sort of control a state bar association wields over lawyers — important, sure, but not tantamount to an employer/employee relationship.

Before explaining why that experience was healthy, too, a bit of background. Read more


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