* Cardinal suggests single economic ministry with bank
* Vatican bank has embarrassed Church for decades
* Bank undergoing extensive reform over past year
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Feb 19 Cardinals advising Pope
Francis on reforming Vatican finances gave him their proposals
on Wednesday with one suggesting a new central economic ministry
that would incorporate the Holy See's scandal-plagued bank.
An eight-member advisory board of cardinals from around the
world had concluded three days of meetings and reached its
conclusions, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told
reporters at a briefing.
"They have formulated their proposals and now it will be up
to the pope to decide which direction to go, to decide what to
do," Lombardi said.
The board of cardinals heard reports from two commissions,
one on economic affairs in general and another specifically
about the Vatican's troubled bank, officially known as the
Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
Francis has not ruled out closing the IOR altogether if it
cannot be reformed and has said he wants the Vatican to adhere
to international standards of financial transparency.
There have been suggestions that a new ministry may be set
up in the Vatican to deal with all of its financial matters,
which are now handled by the bank and several other departments.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, one of the
eight cardinals advising the pope, told the French Catholic
newspaper La Croix that he believed a "finance secretariat"
could be established.
"It's a very reasonable idea, and I think it is necessary to
be better organised," he said, listing the five Vatican
departments, including the IOR, which handle Holy See finances.
Lombardi said there would be no formal announcement on the
future of the bank or other Vatican financial departments until
the pope made his decision.
The eight cardinals from Italy, Chile, India, Germany,
Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Australia and
Honduras are advising Francis on how to reform the Curia, the
Vatican's often dysfunctional central administration.
Pope Francis has a packed week of meetings about reform with
top Church officials in Rome for ceremonies this Saturday when
the pope will create 19 new cardinals from around the world.
The bank has been embroiled in scandal several times in the
past decades. Italian magistrates are still investigating the
IOR's former managers on suspicion of money laundering, a charge
the Vatican denies.
In the past year, it has been undergoing massive structural
reforms under its new German-born president Ernst von Freyberg.
The IOR's stated mission is to serve Catholic institutions,
clerics, employees or former employees of Vatican City, and
embassies and diplomats accredited to the Holy See.
Under Freyberg, it has been closing accounts held by persons
or institutions outside those categories.
However, the bank has been misused by individuals entitled
to hold accounts.
One of the most notorious is Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a
former Vatican prelate who worked in another Vatican department
for 22 years and had close ties to the bank.
Scarano is now on trial for an alleged plot to smuggle 20
million euros into Italy to help rich friends avoid taxes.
Currently under house arrest, Scarano is also at the centre
of another investigation in which he is charged with money
laundering through his accounts at the bank.
He says he was just trying to help friends who had given him
donations but magistrates reject his claims.
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris; Writing by
Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)