ROME Pope Francis named top laymen from the worlds of finance and economics on Saturday to a new Vatican Council for the Economy, intended to improve scrutiny of the Holy See's scandal-plagued accounts.
The creation of the 15-member council is a major step in bringing lay people into the Vatican, and reflects a drive by Francis to make changes to an establishment often seen as murky and secretive.
The seven non-religious figures in the council include Maltese economist Joseph Zahra, former director of the Central Bank of Malta, and France's Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, chairman of mergers and acquisitions advisory firm INCIPIT and former head of the European Fund and Asset Management Association.
Spanish University of Madrid economist Enrique Llano Cueto, German former McKinsey & Company partner Jochen Messemer, and Italian University of Messina Business Administration professor Francesco Vermiglio were also named members.
George Yeo, a former Singapore Finance Minister, was named alongside retired oil executive John Kyle.
The council includes eight prelates from around the world, coordinated by Munich and Freising Cardinal Reinhard Marx, known for speaking on socio-economic issues in Germany and one of the eight cardinals charged with re-organizing the Vatican administration, the Curia.
In a statement, the Holy See made it clear that the body has policy-making powers and is not just an advisory board.
"The members appointed to the Council are from various geographical areas, reflecting... the universality of the Church," the statement read.
A series of scandals involving financial mismanagement have embarrassed the Church, including documents leaked by the former pope's butler and an investigation by Italian magistrates into allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank, formally called the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
Francis, who called for a "poor Church, for the poor" after his election almost a year ago, has not ruled out closing the IOR, which handles funds for religious orders and Vatican employees.
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Rosalind Russell)