By Associated Press - Thursday, March 7, 2013

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope received a briefing on the Holy See’s finances Thursday amid questions about the Vatican bureaucracy and continued suspicions about its bank.

The heads of the Vatican’s three main financial offices briefed the cardinals as required by rules covering the transition period between papacies, during which cardinals meet daily to discuss the problems of the church and the qualities needed in a new pope.

The cardinals didn’t set a date for the start of the conclave, and the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he didn’t expect a decision to be taken in Thursday’s afternoon session. The last of the 115 voting-age cardinals, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, who is archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City,  arrived later Thursday, and the date could not be set until he did.

But a decision on the start also depends on a determination by the cardinals that they have had sufficient time to gather all the information they need about the state of the church and who should be pope.

Once the conclave starts, there is very little time for discussion. There are two votes in the morning and two votes in the afternoon — all of them conducted in silent prayer, not chatter. As a result, setting the date for the conclave is akin to setting the deadline for when deliberations effectively finish.

As such, “it seems very normal and very wise” to wait to set the date until all cardinals are confident that they’re nearing an end to their deliberations, Father Federico Lombardi said.

For the fourth day in a row, discussions included questions about the Holy See’s administration and its relationships with dioceses around the world amid complaints that the Holy See doesn’t communicate well internally or externally.

The problems of the Holy See’s internal governance have been a constant theme of deliberations this week as cardinals — especially from the United States — have sought information about allegations of corruption and cronyism that were exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year.

Father Lombardi said the financial briefing by the heads of the Vatican’s economic affairs office, the administration of the Vatican City-State, and the department overseeing the Holy See’s assets and personnel was to give the cardinals an early peek at the Holy See’s financial reports, which usually come out in July.

He refused to comment when asked if the Vatican’s bank, the Institute for Religious Works, was discussed. The bank, which was created to administer the pope’s works of charity, long has been the focus of scandal for the Vatican, though it has tried to clean up its reputation by submitting itself to an evaluation by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee.

Moneyval, which helps governments adhere to internationally recognized anti-money-laundering and anti-terror-financing norms, gave the Holy See a passing grade in its first evaluation last summer. But the bank received poor or failing grades on a number of fronts, with Moneyval finding that its rules on customer due diligence, wire transfers and suspicious-transaction reporting were insufficient.

This week, the widely read Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, which is distributed free in Italian parishes each Sunday, carried an article calling for the bank to be closed on the grounds that the pontificate shouldn’t have direct links to the world of finance.

It argued that there are plenty of ethically minded commercial banks in Italy and elsewhere that could be trusted to manage the Holy See’s assets.

“Total transparency would thus be assured and the faithful, who continue to generously donate, would know that their money given to the church … is destined to the poor,” said the article penned by historian Giorgio Campanini.

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